Food-focused travelers and locals know a good meal is easy to come by in Baltimore. If you’re hungry to support the local community, you’ll find local, family-owned restaurants in all corners of the city.
It’s no surprise that Little Italy is packed with restaurants that have strong family histories. Among them are Ciao Bella, Da Mimmo’s and Sabatino’s, where Lisa Morekas works alongside her father, brother, son, and nephew.
“It’s a family name on the door,” she explains. “When it’s your place you care more. It’s my life, this is all I’ve ever done, and it’s all I’ll ever do.” The restaurant opened in 1955, and its history spans five decades and three generations. Her 72-year-old father can often be found greeting customers at the restaurant’s front door.
Of course, they are many newer restaurants that are run by families, too. One is FLAVOR, an American small plates restaurant opened by partners Julia and Vanna Belton in 2015. “We want every customer to feel like they are a guest for dinner at our home,” Julia says of the Mount Vernon restaurant, which debuted just a few years after the couple met.
“It was our mutual love of food that piqued our interest in each other,” Julia explains. She had experience as a chef, and Vanna had experience with staff training—it turned out to be a perfect pairing.
A love of food also inspired Edward and Marianne Bosco to open Verde, a fine-dining restaurant in Canton that specializes in Neapolitan pizza. “The creative act of cooking and the social act of cooking were paramount to our relationship,” says Edward. “That was the genesis of our interest in opening a restaurant.”
The Boscos see the difference a family-owned restaurant makes. “The personal touch, the flexibility, the ability to pay attention to the diner on a personal level is something that a family owned restaurant is able to do,” explains Edward.
And it’s not just the customers who notice the difference. The employees benefit, too. “[We] try hard to build relationships with our guests as well as our team,” explains David Dopkin, who co-owns the three Miss Shirley’s Cafe locations—Inner Harbor, Roland Park and Annapolis—with his wife, Brandy.
Miss Shirley’s Cafe was established by David’s father, Eddie, in 2005. Today, the family builds relationships with their 150-plus staff members through gestures like taking them to Orioles and Ravens games, and surprising them with a visit from an ice-cream truck after long days at work.
“Our team is clearly our extended family,” Dopkins adds. “We spend more time together than at home.”
See our family-owned and operated slide show for more great family-owned restaurants in Baltimore.