Patrick 'Scunny' McCusker, restaurant owner

Patrick Scunny McCusker
(File Photo / 2007, Baltimore Sun)

Friends remembered Scunny McCusker as a "man with a million friends" who would do anything for a sick child and celebrated unpretentious Baltimore traditions at his Canton restaurants, Nacho Mama's and Mama's on the Half Shell.

Patrick Michael McCusker, known to his legion of friends as "Scunny," died Aug. 24 at Peninsula General Hospital in Salisbury after being struck by a bus as he rode a bicycle along Ocean City's Coastal Highway. He was 49 and lived in Cockeysville.

"He was an absolute hero throughout Canton and all of Southeast Baltimore," said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, homilist at his funeral Mass on Wednesday. "He had almost a compulsion to give and be kind. He had the most remarkable charity, especially children's charity. He was also a great family man and was always on the go."

Born in Baltimore and raised in Carney, he was a 1980 graduate of Loch Raven High School. He spent his summers at Ocean City and became a doorman and later bartender at the Greene Turtle. He subsequently worked at the Brass Rail, Fager's Island, Shenanigan's, the 67th Street Holiday Inn and Smitty McGee's.

"Everybody in Ocean City knew him," said a friend, Steve Pappas. "He was the local legend."

Friends said he was an accomplished prankster and when shucking oysters would shock unsuspecting patrons by implying he had cut his finger off.

He was also an owner of the Great American Cookout, an Ocean City restaurant, and several sunglass retail operations. He was often accompanied by his golden retriever, Boh, named for the beer.

In the late 1990s, he met Brian Morrison, founder of the Believe in Tomorrow Children's Foundation. Mr. McCusker joined the board of the charity, which supports sick children and their families who come to Baltimore for long-term medical treatment. The families live in two residences, one near the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the other in Canton.

"His giving was in every way as large as his personality," said Mr. Morrison. "He had an instinctive feeling, an intuition, for what was important in our lives. Scunny was a great connector of people and was insightful into the needs of each of us."

Mr. Morrison said that since 1999, Mr. McCusker had donated 16,000 meals to children and their families staying at the foundation's homes.

He said the restaurateur accepted a challenge to kayak from Baltimore to Ocean City via the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. He repeated the trip and also paddled from Quantico, Va., to Baltimore. When he successfully completed the three trips, he had raised more than $200,000 in financial pledges.

After working in Ocean City, Mr. McCusker and a business partner opened a pizza shop and then their Tex-Mex Nacho Mama's on O'Donnell Square in 1994.

"Canton was a place you had to drive through from Interstate 95 to get to Fells Point," he said in a 2007 Baltimore Sun interview. "Now it's a destination."

He featured National Bohemian beer at Nacho Mama's and said he decorated his establishment as if it were "a poor man's Haussner's." A 2010 Sun column said he had "Mr. Boh in tin, enamel and glass, along with a generous representation of Elvis on velvet and a sign from the Two O'Clock Club."

He relished his role in reviving National Bohemian beer: "That's all I drank," he said in the 2010 story. "We're bringing it back to the people whose grandfathers would buy it in basement taverns." Earlier this year he posed for photographers as he stood at his bar as Natty Boh was reintroduced on tap.

In 2003, he and his wife, the former Jacqueline "Jackie" Falter, and a chef, Sean Fisher, opened Mama's on the Half Shell, a seafood restaurant housed in an old Catholic War Veterans hall, also on O'Donnell Square. He filled the restaurant with oyster plates, historic photos and nautical memorabilia.

"Mama's on the Half Shell is a noisy, crowded, fun place to be to eat oysters in every conceivable guise [and] drink beer," said a 2004 Sun article.

The restaurant revived the Pratt Street seafood classics from the old Connolly's — fried oysters, crab imperial and crab cakes, but in a better way. "The kitchen throws jumbo lump crab meat around with reckless abandon, so the crab cakes and crab imperial are generous to a fault," the 2004 article said.

Mr. McCusker contrasted his two restaurants: "I was definitely single when I opened Nacho Mama's and I'm definitely married opening this one."

Friends said he often gave to other causes. In 2004, he donated food and drink to a reunion of Baltimore Colts cheerleaders.

"He remembers the cheerleaders from when, as a young boy, he attended Colts games with his father," a 2004 Sun account said.

"He was simply a great-hearted man," said Sister Philip Joseph Davis, a member of the Dominican Sisters at Mount De Sales Academy in Catonsville. "He loved life and he loved people. He never met a stranger. He accepted everyone at first meeting."

A Mass will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St.

Survivors include his wife of 16 years; a son, Finn P. McCusker; a daughter, Darby R. McCusker, both of Cockeysville; his father, John C. McCusker of Mount Washington; and a brother, Joseph F. McCusker of Carney.