Peter Michael Yagjian, a restaurateur whose Mount Vernon Stable and Saloon brought baby back rib platters to Charles Street, died of a heart attack Tuesday at his Fells Point home. He was 64.
Customers said that at his restaurant's peak, lines would form at its door on weekend nights. Mr. Yagjian, as the host and greeter, would dart around tables trying to accommodate one more party in his crowded and noisy bistro that featured a reproduction Egyptian mummy case and other eclectic decorations.
Born in Roxbury, Mass., he attended the Boston Latin School and earned an English degree at Northeastern University. Family members said he wanted to meet author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. so he looked him up in a Barnstable, Mass., phone book and wound up having coffee with him.
His first job was selling Smith-Corona Marchant typewriters. He was assigned to be Baltimore's district sales manager and later worked for the old Maryland National Bank with its early automated teller machines. By the late 1970s, he formed a head-hunting business, Alexander & Michaels.
In a 1979 Baltimore Sun article, he described himself as an "academic of the 1960s who would like to lead a blue jeans lifestyle." While recruiting executives to work in Baltimore, he said he ran his business like the television show "Mission Impossible," "assembling the right mix of lawyers, bankers and accountants to make recommendations to help keep a failing restaurant or store afloat."
After doing this type of consulting for the old Sh'nanigans restaurant in Cockeysville and becoming its general manager, he abandoned the head-hunting job and fulfilled a dream to open a stylish French bistro in the Mount Vernon section. He and a partner, Steve Brennan, opened Pinocchio at 909 N. Charles St. in 1984.
"We had been on a vacation to St. Maarten and fell in love with a little restaurant there called Pinocchio," said his wife of 30 years, the former Lorraine Bieger, who worked alongside him and plans to keep the business open.
The French recipes and white tablecloth concept brought food reviewers' praise, but the restaurant did only fair business.
"It was ahead of its time for where Baltimore was then," his wife said. "Food was Peter's conduit, but his occupation was to make people happy and give them a respite from their day."
About 20 years ago, Mr. Yagjian changed its name to Mount Vernon Stable and Saloon and its menu to baby back ribs, fried onion loafs, black bean soup and Tex-Mex dishes. He also brought in a decor that mixed Egyptian artifacts, posters and plaster angels. His business took off and became one of the most popular along Charles Street.
"The ribs here are superb," said a 1992 Sun review. "Bathed in a deliciously balanced sauce, they're fall-off-the-bone tender and consistently good visit after visit. It's the food that keeps the customers coming."
The restaurant established a niche with theater- and concert-goers, as well as with customers who had a Friday night cocktail nearby and wanted to finish the night with a meal.
"It was home to lawyers, drag queens, theater folk, musicians - everybody," said his daughter, Crista Rebecca Yagjian of Guilford, Vt. "His life's work was to provide a kind of dining experience that made people feel like they were entering a family living room rather than a restaurant."
Mr. Yagjian, who quit smoking more than 10 years ago after suffering a heart attack, featured fancy ashtrays, such as a triangular chartreuse model at his bar that sat beneath the main dining room.
In her assessment of his restaurant, Sun food critic Elizabeth Large said, "But it's the bar food par excellence, a dizzying selection of munchies."
In recent years, Mr. Yagjian seated customers at lunchtime.
"He talked sports - he was an avid sports lover of all Boston's teams - and told stories, perhaps somewhat inflated. He treated everyone like family," his daughter said.
Mr. Yagjian also had a weekend home in Princess Anne.
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a son, David Sarkis Yagjian of Towson; a sister, Carole Lee Yagjian of Towson; and a grandson. His marriage to Donna McKusick ended in divorce.
Services are private.