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Restaurant featuring American cuisine to open at former Friendly's in Catonsville

A new mid-to upscale restaurant featuring American fare will be opening within 90 days at the former Friendly’s in Catonsville by the owners of Portalli’s in Ellicott City, one of the co-owners announced.

Evan Brown, along with his business partner and chef, Keith Holsey, are still refining the restaurant’s concept, although Brown did say that the menu will be a “melding of classic and modern American cuisine.”

“We’re still kind of chiseling out the exact concept, but it will be ... focused on local ingredients, local sourcing, things like that,” Brown said, adding that many of the details have not yet been worked out such as an exact opening date, hours of operation, the decor — although it will be “clean and modern,” Brown said —or even a name.

“It’s become an obsession, trying to figure out the name of this restaurant,” Brown said. “It’s possible we send it to the community to vote” if they can’t settle on a name.

The restaurant will feature a full-service bar offering craft cocktails, bourbons, whiskeys and local craft beer, Brown said.

The Catonsville Friendly’s closed in October 2017. Since then, the building has been unoccupied, leading to speculation on social media and around town on who the new tenant might be.

“There’s been a lot of … talk; it went from ‘it’s a Greene Turtle,’ to ‘it’s Five Guys’… you know, rumors start,” said Joe Poisal, president of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce. “We’re just really relieved that there is something that we feel is really going to … be another high-quality addition to the Frederick Road downtown area.”

Lawrence “Bruz” Meiser, a property manager with Booth Properties, which owns the building, said the company was looking for a “long-time tenant” to fill the space.

“[Brown] brought a lot of experience to the table,” Meiser said. “We’re hoping that he’ll be very successful.”

Kirby Spencer, who owns the buildings on Frederick Road occupied by Atwater’s and Pat’s Porch, said she’s “absolutely ecstatic” that Brown is bringing a restaurant to Catonsville.

“Restaurants are always great, they’re magnets for attracting outside people to come and see what’s happening,” Spencer said.

Portalli’s still closed after flood

Portalli’s shut its doors following flooding in historic Ellicott City on May 27 that brought 10 inches of rain within two hours. But Brown said he plans to return to business on Main Street.

A GoFundMe campaign set up for Portalli’s says its employees are displaced from work “indefinitely.” The campaign has raised more than $8,000 to help provide for the restaurant’s employees and cover the costs of rebuilding. Brown said he was not sure when the restaurant would re-open, but that it’s “it’s a ways away.”

“We really wanted to commit to going back there, as crazy as it might sound,” Brown said. “The people in Ellicott City supported [Portalli’s] for so long. I really don’t want to uproot that and move it somewhere else.”

Brown said also that he’s “loyal” to Maryland brands that have supported the Ellicott City community, like Frederick-based Flying Dog and Laurel-based Jailbreak Brewing Company. The two companies in 2016 released a joint brew, called “Watershed Moment,” a Belgian IPA. All profits from the joint brew went to flood relief efforts.

Both brewers have had fundraisers for Ellicott City since the May 2018 flood.

Brown grew up and lives in Catonsville, just minutes away from where his new restaurant will be.

“It’ll be good to be in the community,” he said.

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