The Red Byrd Restaurant, which drew an outcry from patrons when it closed Nov. 14, has reopened with new ownership, again offering homemade entrees like fresh hamburger steaks and pork chops.
The former owners of the long-established restaurant, Becki and Jamie Burtner, closed the restaurant after a steady decline in business.
Jamie Burtner vented frustration about big chain restaurants having more buying power than small independent ones, and added that he and his wife could not get help from banks to consolidate their debt.
Now the eatery, which reopened Jan. 3, is under the control of another old hand at home-style cooking. She has her own perspective on cooking in a tough economy.
For 23 years, Bonnie Hawker has been running Bonnie’s Country Kitchen in Lovettsville, Va., a community south of Brunswick, Md.
Hawker rents the building for that restaurant from Fred George, who owns three other buildings that house restaurants.
When the Red Byrd Restaurant building became available, George offered the restaurant to the owners who operated the three other eateries, Hawker said.
The group of restaurant owners decided that Hawker should have the Red Byrd building, since her cooking style matched the history of the local landmark, she said.
Hawker made arrangements with George to lease the building and after Thanksgiving, she started making preparations there for her new restaurant — Bonnie’s at the Red Byrd.
The Red Byrd Restaurant opened in about 1958, and in recent years it was known for its slippery potpie, all-you-can-eat chicken and cream-of-crab soup.
After Hawker wrapped up the details to reopen the restaurant, she called a meeting to begin organizing the staff. The meeting attracted all the restaurant’s former workers, some of whom were longtime employees of the business.
“They all came because it’s like a family to them. Red Byrd blood, I call it,” Hawker said.
She hired about three-quarters of the former workers, including Beth Wyand, a waitress who has worked at the restaurant for 32 years.
Wyand said the closing of the restaurant made her nervous, but she was all smiles on the first day of operations under Hawker.
“It’s my home away from home,” Wyand said.
Although the restaurant was closed for seven weeks, people began streaming into the landmark again Monday. Hawker said her first customers were 10 regulars from her Lovettsville restaurant.
Among the customers at the restaurant on opening day were Ed and Lena Intyre of Rohrersville, who dined on country ham, vegetable soup and pork barbecue. They said they used to eat at the Red Byrd once a week.
“It is excellent,” Braddock Heights, Md., resident Tom Brewer said as he finished a grilled chicken salad.
Hawker prepares the food by hand. She cuts her own meat, and her specialties include fresh ground hamburger steaks, fresh pork chops and chicken.
“Nothing here is frozen,” Hawker said.
Hawker is hanging onto tradition, such as the red velvet cake for which the restaurant was known. She said she was able to retain the services of the woman who previously baked the cakes.
“I see why it’s famous,” said Hawker as she took her first bite of the cake during an interview Monday afternoon.
Hawker said she has found that people want affordable, home-style cooking in tough times. She added that business at her Lovettsville restaurant has increased during the recession.
“It’s a way of life here,” Hawker said of the Red Byrd’s role in the Keedysville area.