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Philip ‘Pinny’ Friedman, restaurateur and former owner of the Chesapeake, dies

Philip Friedman's Chesapeake was one of the most popular restaurants in Baltimore.
Philip Friedman's Chesapeake was one of the most popular restaurants in Baltimore. (Baltimore Sun staff/Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Philip “Pinny” Friedman, a career restaurateur associated with the Chesapeake, Tail of the Fox and Gampy’s restaurants, who was recalled for his customer loyalty, died Feb. 23 at a Las Vegas assisted living home. He was 95.

“Covid didn’t kill him, but the pandemic took him down,” said his son, Donald Friedman, with whom he worked.

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Baltimore Sun food critic Elizabeth Large said in 1973, “In spite of being one of the city’s truly expensive restaurants, the Chesapeake has a curious air of a family-owned, folksy neighborhood restaurant where everyone knows everyone else.”

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Morris Friedman, a Hungarian immigrant, and his wife, Dora Spielman.

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His Hebrew name was Pincus, the basis for his nickname, “Pinny,” which became familiarly known as “Penny.”

His father opened a delicatessen lunchroom on Charles Street adjacent to both Pennsylvania Station and the old transit company bus garage that now houses the Charles Theater.

“When Prohibition ended, my father had the place remodeled and named it the Chesapeake Restaurant,” Mr. Friedman said in a Sun interview.

Mr. Friedman was the youngest of five children — Ruth, Sidney, Irvin and Norman.

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By the time he graduated from Forest Park High School in 1943, Mr. Friedman had been working in the restaurant, which had expanded into a sit-down restaurant. All the children worked for the family business, except Irvin, who became a lawyer.

Mr. Friedman recalled in a Sun article that he rode streetcars after school to join his family at the restaurant. He dried silverware and printed menus.

After his brother Sidney retired in 1976, he assumed the restaurant’s management. He had worked closely with his brother, who some years before had neon letters advertise its steaks: “Cut it with a fork or tear up your check and walk out.”

“Sid began serving charcoaled steaks with potatoes and a roll and butter for 85 cents,” Mr. Friedman said. “His friends said, `Sid, nobody’s going to pay 85 cents for a steak.’ “

“At its peak, the Chesapeake drew power brokers, sports figures, celebrities and locals celebrating special occasions to its six dining rooms which seated 300 persons on multiple floors,” said authors Suzanne Loudermilk and Kit W. Pollard in the “Lost Restaurants of Baltimore.”

They also said, “The restaurant’s menu of charbroiled steaks, seafood dishes and stiff drinks, made with top-shelf brands like Tanqueray and Bacardi, complemented its clubby setting of dark wood, plush banquettes and white cloths on the tables.”

Mr. Friedman recalled how New York Yankees and later Mets manager Casey Stengel came in and regaled the bar patrons with stories. He also said the Detroit Lions player Alex Karras and fellow team members arrived one night, ordered lobsters all around followed by a 22-ounce chateaubriand for each player.

Mr. Friedman and his brother also made gold initialed matchbooks for regular customers and a souvenir check made out for 10 cents, then the cost of a phone call.

The Friedman family expanded the Chesapeake in 1961 by buying the adjoining restaurant, a seafood house, Hasslinger’s.

The Chespeake also courted business from Charles Street advertising agencies.

“This was the day of two-martini, Smirnoff vodka lunch,” said Mr. Friedman’s son, Donald.

“It was so popular that it was always difficult to get into on a Friday or Saturday night. It was a place to be seen and heard,” Herb Fried, who later was president and CEO of the Doner agency, said in a 2008 Sun article. “Our office was three blocks away and we were always taking clients there.”

The same article quoted the late Vince Bagli, the WBAL-TV sports anchor, who was also a regular at the Chesapeake during its glory years of the 1960s and 1970s.

“It was the Baltimore restaurant in those days. It was the most popular restaurant in town,” said Mr. Bagli in an interview. “There were more folks hired and fired there and many deals made over the hatcheck counter.”

Mr. Friedman was later asked to take over the management of the Tail of the Fox, a Lutherville dining establishment on York Road.

He rounded out his career in 1979 when he and his son opened a new restaurant, Gampy’s, short for the Great American Melting Pot, on Charles Street near Read. Father and son worked on the Gampy’s concept for two years. One critic called it “upscale diner food.”

“Gampy’s was a confluence of many things,” said his son. “Our customers’ tastes were changing. People came in with a knowledge of other cuisines. They knew Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.”

Donald Friedman said the result was an informal, eclectic restaurant whose menu contained the advice “Just Eat It” and “the fun place to dine.”

One of its top sellers was the Monte Cristo sandwich, a deep-fried club sandwich with turkey, ham and cheese served with Melba sauce.

Gampy’s closed in 1995.

After retiring, Mr. Friedman lived in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Services were private.

In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Joel Friedman of Arlington, Virginia; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife of many years, Marion Goodman, a registered nurse who ran flu clinics in Howard County, died in 2019.

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