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Harry P. Fischer, founder of Harvest Inn Family Restaurant in Eldersburg, dies

Harry P. Fischer, who was the founder of the Harvest Inn Family Restaurant and earlier had been a farmer and butcher, died of heart failure Friday at his Eldersburg home. He was 93.

Harry Paul Fischer, son of Harry August Fischer, an iceman and bar owner, and his wife, Anna Louise Kraft Fischer, was born in Baltimore and raised in Walbrook.

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A Baltimore City College graduate, he served in the Marine Corps from 1949 until being discharged in 1951, when he became a farmer in Gamber. In addition to farming, he also worked as a butcher in Hollins Market in Southwest Baltimore from 1953 until 1966.

Harry P. Fischer
Harry P. Fischer

A meeting in a Walbrook soda shop with a young girl proved to be providential.

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“I was 15 and he was 19 and we married in 1952,” said the former Jean Griffin, who later worked with her husband in the restaurant.

In 1966, Mr. Fischer established the Liberty Drive Inn, which became the Harvest Inn Family Restaurant, also known as the Harvest Inn. The restaurant, which began as a coffee shop, expanded when a dining room was added and then a second-floor bar and a banquet room, with much of the work done by Mr. Fischer, an experienced carpenter who had built five houses.

“When they were putting up a steel beam, it was off one-quarter of an inch and he told them to take it down and reweld it,” said Tony Trombetta, of Eldersburg, who now owns and operates the business with his wife, Carol, who is one of Mr. Fischer’s daughters. “He said he didn’t want a crooked restaurant.”

“He made it a flat-roof restaurant and designed it himself, and did all of the plumbing, heating and electric,” said Edwin M. “Ed” Derrenberger, a nephew, who worked at the Harvest Inn from 1970 to 1987. “He could build anything.”

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“At the time, it was the only game in town and everybody went there,” said Bryan Whiteaker, who began going there with his mother when he was a boy, and later went to work in the restaurant.

“It was one of my first jobs. I was 14 or 15, and Mr. Fischer was one of my first bosses. He had a big impact on my life in the restaurant business,” recalled Mr. Whiteaker, who went on to a three-decade career in the restaurant industry and later became the owner of the Red Rooster in Damascus.

“I started as a dishwasher and worked my way up to cook. When you go in there and see that big grill, that’s where I cut my teeth,” he said.

Mr. Derrenberger said: “It was a very popular place at the time because it was the first sit-down restaurant in Eldersburg.”

“Eldersburg’s ’Cheers’ isn’t exactly like the one on television, but it’s close,” observed the Carroll County Times in a 1988 article. “Cheers is the kind of bar where, well, everybody knows your name.”

“I wanted a place where people could come in and enjoy themselves,” Mr. Fischer explained in the article. “I didn’t want a knife and gun club.”

“At the time, it was the only game in town and everyone came in there,” Mr. Whiteaker said.

Mr. Fischer could be a stern taskmaster, according to Mr. Whiteaker. “He was a spitfire and he wanted things done right, and if they weren’t, you did it again.”

Mr. Derrenberger said: “My uncle could be one tough cookie and worked 100 hours a week, but everyone respected him. The place was so popular we couldn’t get people out and he’d still be cooking at 11:30 at night.”

Like Mr. Whiteaker, Mr. Trombetta began working at the Liberty Road restaurant during his high school years in the late 1970s.

“I worked in the coffee shop, washed dishes, was a busboy, became a counterman and made deliveries,” Mr. Trombetta said.

“And that’s where I met my future wife. Carol washed dishes with me and had a crush on me. She’d follow me around like a puppy. She was 14 and I was 18,” he said.

Harvest Inn was known for its “huge breakfasts, but we served good basic American food,” Mr. Whiteaker said.

“We worked together. I cooked and he managed,” Mrs. Fischer said. “He did do a bit of cooking, but he took care of the business end and ran the place.”

“He liked breakfast — scrapple, bacon, sausage and eggs — I think that was his favorite meal,” Mrs. Trombetta said.

Mrs. Fischer said the restaurant served sour beef and dumplings, a recipe that came from Mr. Fischer’s German grandfather.

“For years, it was a popular seller here,” Mr. Trombetta said.

“He’d cut our steaks, roasts and sirloins,” Mr. Derrenberger said. “He loved to work and he had an outstanding work ethic, and that’s how he became successful — but he wanted things done the right way.”

While he held his employees to a high standard, he was also outgoing and friendly.

“He was a very honest and generous person, but he didn’t sugarcoat things. You always received an honest answer,” his daughter said. “As a father, he was the rock of our family and when you had a problem, you always went to him and he was always willing to help.”

Mr. Trombetta said: “We had a cook that died and he paid for the funeral. He helped her family so they could bury her. When Carol and I got married, we lived with her parents for several years, until we were able to save up and buy our first house. He gave us the land so we could build our home. He has been great to me my entire life.”

When Mr. Fischer was contemplating retirement in the 1990s, he turned to his son-in-law, who was working as a rental business manager, and his daughter.

“They wanted me to go to manage a store in Philadelphia that had problems,” Mr. Trombetta said. “We drove to Philadelphia and after seeing the city, turned the job down. Carol is a close family person, so we were talked into taking over the restaurant. He taught me everything about how to run the business and about the restaurant business, so we took it over in 1993.”

He added: “Harry was a very good businessman but not hard-nosed, but if he found that you had been stealing from him, he’d fire you in a heartbeat.”

Mr. Fischer was a past president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland and the Eldersburg Business Association.

He enjoyed golfing with several friends, fishing and traveling.

Services are private.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Carol Ann Trombetta, Mr. Fischer is survived by another daughter, Barbara J. Parrish of New Windsor; two brothers, Louis Fischer and Robert Fischer, both of Sykesville; six grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren.

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