John Smoudianis had thought about gutting the place — then he saw it: maple and chrome Art Deco interior, back-lit mirrors, booth-lined walls, red neon sign.
The new owner of Werner’s at 231 E. Redwood St. said he will reopen the doors of the 1950s luncheonette on Monday, reviving a Baltimore classic that went dark in April 2011 after a 61-year run.
“I didn’t want to change it because it gives it personality, the nostalgic value of Werner’s,” said the Brooklyn, N.Y., native who moved to Baltimore five years ago.
But since March, Smoudianis has been making renovations: The walls are repainted, the tables and chairs are new, the flooring has been partially replaced and the kitchen completely remodeled.
It’s cost “a lot more than I thought,” Smoudianis said with a laugh.
The restaurant will have some of the old favorites — like French fries and gravy — as well as some new finger-licking menu items, like the “Chicken Ridiculous,” a fried chicken breast sandwich topped with lettuce, tomato, bacon, provolone and oil and vinegar.
“That one’s from Brooklyn,” Smoudianis said.
The braunschweiger and Swiss cheese sandwich didn’t make the updated menu, but Smoudianis said once the restaurant is up and running, he would look to add items customers request as specials.
The restaurant will list its daily specials on its Facebook page —WernersBaltimore.
This is the first time Smoudianis has opened a restaurant, but it’s not the 33-year-old’s first dip into the industry: His father owned diners in Brooklyn for 30 years, and Smoudianis said he started in the industry when he was 10 years old.
His father-in-law, Nikitas Stamatiadis, is also in the business. He owns Never on Sunday in Mount Vernon.
“Working there, I know everyone that comes in there, it’s like a neighborhood spot, and that’s the kind of place I like to be associated with,” Smoudianis said. “When I saw [Werner’s], that’s how I felt, I felt at home, and that’s what I want to bring back.”
As both a source of moral support and Baltimore know-how, Smoudianis’ father-in-law helped him set up the restaurant, place the initial orders for food and packaged good, and navigate the city’s certification and licensing system. He even provided some financial support.
Smoudianis’ wife, Tina, also joined in, designing the menu and overseeing the restaurant’s décor, including the selection of tables and chairs and posters of movies filmed in the area that will adorn the walls.
Werner’s has been featured in “Tin Men” with Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss, “Ladder 49,” and “The Wire,” among others. Since Smoudianis has taken over, he’s opened his doors to the Netflix series “House of Cards.”
Werner Kloetzli opened the restaurant in 1950, and it became a staple for politicians, lawyers and other businesspeople in the area, as well as a favorite of movie and television scenes. His granddaughter, Ruth Kloetzli, co-owned the restaurant from 1993 to 2005.
Four servers and two cooks will work with Smoudianis. The 65-seat restaurant will be open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“I’m very excited. I’m nervous, butterflies in the stomach. … I want to do well for myself, for the community,” Smoudianis said.
The community wants him to do well, too.
“I’m happy that they’re here and that they’re opening. I’m more of a customer than anything else. I’m looking forward to eating there,” said Barry F. Rosen, chairman and CEO of Gordon Feinblatt LLC, which is next to Werner’s. The law firm owns the building and leases the restaurant space.
“Like anything, if the food’s good, people will come in,” said Rosen, who said he liked to order the No. 6 — an egg salad club sandwich.
Rosen also writes a column for The Daily Record.
Though he usually ate at the restaurant once a week, Rosen said his loyalty didn’t compare to that of Court of Special Appeals Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr.
“I think that I probably started going to Werner’s more than 30 years ago, and since being on the bench it became a daily retreat,” said Matricciani, who has been a judge since January 1995.
“We sort of had our own judges’ table there with a waitress named Sheila. … After a while she started to know what we ate and what we drank. We felt at home there,” the judge said.
And what was it that he ordered?
“The turkey sandwiches,” he said. “They were always very good.”