When Greg Tolker, Lee Stumpf and Rick Shackelford went to high school together in the 1980s, they never dreamed they would one day own and operate restaurants together.
But when a Catonsville location became available in 1993, the classmates from Mount St. Joseph High School in Baltimore teamed to open the first G.L. Shacks."We were pretty clear as to what we wanted," recalled Tolker. "We wanted a community place, a bar and restaurant with good food, where people could come and relax."
The three had some restaurant and business experience: Shackelford was managing a bar; Stumpf, who had worked in restaurants, owned a liquor store; and Tolker sold wine and worked as a bartender. All three are hands-on owners who are involved with the day-to-day operation of the restaurants."A lot of people warned us we were crazy to get in a three-way partnership," Tolker said.
The restaurant did well from the start.
The partners had been remodeling the restaurant, mostly in the evenings. "People riding up and down the road in Catonsville could see something was going on, but didn't know what," Tolker recalled.
The owners had planned to offer a buy-one-get-one-free coupon when the restaurant opened, but it was published a few days early, Tolker said. The result: a line at the door on the first night, he said.
In 1995, the trio opened another G.L. Shacks in Ellicott City. Both restaurants seat about 55 people, though the Ellicott City location has outdoor seating that holds another 60.
Both have a separate bar area with televisions usually tuned to sports. A full menu is available in the bar seven days a week.
The menu features soups, salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes. The fruits and vegetables are fresh, the sandwiches piled high with meats and veggies. Seafood dishes are plentiful.
Appetizers include Cajun chicken strips and seafood potato skins topped with shrimp, scallops and crab meat.
Main dishes include crab cakes, lasagna, and a Mediterranean pasta with olives, feta cheese, peppers, onions, capers and artichokes.
The restaurants have daily specials and a children's menu.
Tolker said the owners have no immediate plans to open another G.L. Shacks or make major changes to the existing ones."I really consider ourselves fortunate to be two-for-two in a business where a lot of people go out of business," he said. "It would take the right place at the right time to open another."
As for the partnership, it worked out better than expected. With three people in charge, there's always somebody to break a tie vote on important decisions, Tolker said.
Where: Two locations: 9495 Old Annapolis Road, Ellicott City, 410-715-8500; 583 Frederick Road, Catonsville, 410-788-0879.
Prices: Appetizers: $2.95-$6.95; entrees: $6.50-$15.95.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express.