« Top Ten Places for Happy Hour Food | Main | Surprise! Maybe it's not the economy, stupid »

August 5, 2008

Another well-known restaurant bites the dust, and a discussion of why restaurants close

NorthwoodsClosing.jpgAs msal3 pointed out under an earlier post, Northwoods in West Annapolis will be closing its doors Aug. 16. The press release that came to me started by saying, "Score another one for the poor economy."

Northwoods, which has been around for 23 years, is owned by Russell Brown, who is also the head chef. He doesn't know what he'll be doing, but he plans to stay in the Annapolis area.

Under that same earlier post, Jason asked for a discussion of why so many restaurants close. It's a topic we've discussed before, when I've complained that it's usually difficult to find out; but there's certainly more to be said. ...

He wondered if the city was to blame for Zodiac's closing. The owner thinks so, and certainly the construction was a contributing factor; but as someone else pointed out, Tapas Teatro and the crepe place seem to be doing OK in the same block.

Usually the reason places close is a combination of factors, starting with the fact that great chefs who own their own restaurants aren't necessarily great business people. Nor should they have to be.

Then it's just a terribly hard business, even though a lot of people go into it starry-eyed. The hours are brutal, the frustrations endless.

Then there are the factors you just can't predict, even if you're doing everything right, such as when Donna's became the cafe for all the Bibelots, and then the bookstore chain went bankrupt. Donna's managed to survive, but it wasn't easy.

Or the owner runs off with his partner's wife.

Or we get an economy like the current one.

Or the city decides to streetscape the block in front of your restaurant.

The one thing no one ever says to me is, "I had to close my restaurant because for whatever reason, customers just didn't like my cooking enough to come."

As for another possible closing, Drew from Greektown mentioned that Tiburzi's in Canton has seemed closed since May 24. I haven't heard anything, but the Web site is still up and running. On the other hand, I've called a couple of times and always gotten a busy signal. Anyone know anything one way or the other?

(Monica Lopossay/Sun photographer)


Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:57 AM | | Comments (22)


ITiburzi's is definitely closed. I drove by it the other day and there's a sign on the door stating that as of May 24th, they were closing.

What a shame if Tiburzi's is now closed...great atmosphere, fantastic food and excellent service. Will be missed!

I've seen the same note on the front of Tiburzi's that Drew has, where they thank people for having let them serve them and say goodbye.

If I recall, they were closed for renovation for quite a while a little over a year ago. I wonder if that was a long enough lull to get people out of the habit of going there, and then when the economy slowed down, it was too much of a one-two punch to recover from.

EL, Tiburzis had a printed computer paper with this on the door (I am paraphasing).

We will be closing on May 24, 2008. I want to thank all the wonderful Canton people for coming through our doors for the past 7 years...

I just don't get it. They had dollar crabs during the week (Fridays I think). It always seemed packed. In the last year, I have been there at least half a dozen times.

My belief is that most restaurant owners simply do not want to deal with the long hours and complex issues. I thought I saw a stat that said that most restaurants go belly-up between years 2 - 3? OMG...

TIburzi's is definitely closed for good - they put up a sign on the front door saying so on May 24th. Their website will probably be up until their domain name expires, so that doesn't really mean anything. I have noticed contractors' vans parked out front of the restaurant on a couple occasions, though...

It is certainly a loss to a city's restaurant community when an establishment closes whether caused by forces beyond its control or for other reasons. In addition to those listed by EL, I suppose there have been instances when the owners/operators decided it was time to retire and rather than attempt to sell the place decided to shutter.

Even though no one has told EL that they closed because of anyone liking their food, I wonder if this has actually ever been the case.

As far as closings because of chefs/owners who don't have a good business sense, why don't these folks hire a business manager so that the chefs' talents can be used fully where they belong - in the kitchen? Doesn't it make sense to recognize one's strengths and surround oneself with others with experience and training in the remaining important areas?

I was just talking to my boss about why restaurants close. We were saying that we both could deal with okay food, as long as the service was above standard. But that the reverse wouldn't work for us...

Our offices are near Taste/Crush and we were saying that we hoped more than anything that they get a good waitstaff in there. I think the bad service was a factor in killing Taste (so to speak).

Piano Rob, I can think of a few restaurants that I know longer frequent because of bad service or bad atomsphere or prices, but I am drawing a blank about a restaurant where I simply didn't like the food.

For example, I will never go back to the Wine Market in Fed Hill due to a bad server experience there recently. But as for bad food, I am hard pressed to think of one. Anyone else?

I think it's kind of ironic that the thread kind of began with Northwoods, and is now on poor service. Because, in my mind forever, will be the impeccable service we received the couple of times I was lucky enough to dine there. Both times (which were a couple of years apart) the servers recalled all of the specials for us from memory and made the food sound so seductive we were all in profound states of food lust! I don't at all think that anyone was pointing the finger at Northwoods, and I must point out it's been a good while since I've been there. Just finding it ironic that the conversation evolved to service when I think they had the most perfect service I've ever been the recipient of in my memory (which granted, is getting worse all the time!) Just me geezin....

I live close enough to Tiburzi's to see it from my roof. Not sure how packed it was before the renovations, but I never saw it very crowded post re-opening. The crowd was usually friends and/or family of the owners. Maybe they just got tired of the day-to-day and sold when they received the right offer.

"...made the food sound so seductive we were all in profound states of food lust!"

Joyce W.

What a beautiful phrase. I know exactly what you are talking about.

I'm with anon.e.mouse in hoping that the staff at Taste/Crush will be more pleasant than the previous incarnation. I could do without the "hipper than thou" vibe they gave off.

Hello- I am the owner of Northwoods. I think it is kind of funny how this blog has turned into a discussion of why restaurants go out of business, based on bad service, etc. I feel very comfortable in telling all of you that Northwoods has been, and will be until August16, known for it's excellent, professional service with attention to detail, as well as it's high standards of quality cuisine. Not too mention it's romantic, cozy atmosphere. This has been my life and passion for the past 23 plus years and I am very sad to see it come to this, but I can't survive the continuing corporate invasion of annapolis and the sinking economy. My heart is out to all those people who have made Northwoods their place for celebrations over the past years.

Piano Rob wrote: "...why don't these folks hire a business manager so that the chefs' talents can be used fully where they belong - in the kitchen? "

One of the biggest problems for entrepeneurs (and chef-owners are definitely in that category) is that they do not realize that they cannot do everything themselves, especially as the businees (restaurant) succeeds and expands. Often, by the time they realize this, or are told enough times for it to sink in, it is too late.

my first instinct would be to say that food trumps service, but as I think about it, the restaurants that I stop patronizing is due to bad service. I no longer go to Golden West because the service is so slow, even though I find the food to good and the decor to be great. I won't go to the crepe place in Mount Washington because of horrible service I received seven years ago.

Now, bad service isn't a disqualifier if the restaurant has something really unique to offer. A case in point is the Harmar Tavern in Marietta, Ohio, which is home to the "Sure to be famous Bologna Sandwich". Now, I've had some pretty bad service at the Tavern, but there is no way I'm going to visit Ohio and not get one of their bologna sandwiches. In fact, I normally get a couple. They're under $3, so I figure for that value I really don't deserve good service.

My husband is a chef in Canton and when I asked him why Tiburzi's closed he said simply that "Hemry [one of the owners] ran out of money." I know they had some problems with one or more of their past chefs. ::shrugs::

RoCK wrote I figure for that value I really don't deserve good service. We need to work on self-esteem, Robert. I always deserve good service!

Dahlink, It is not easy to think about building up your self-esteem when you're crossing state lines to get a fried bologna sandwich.

Good to excellent food is par for the course. It’s the equivalent of a bank providing a safe place to store your money. If you can't get that right then please stay home. The restaurant business is just that, a business. A recent SBA survey found that two thirds of new businesses survive at least two years and 44% survive to four or longer. It also found that the restaurant industry survival rate was only marginally lower than the average. Restaurant’s fail for all the same reasons other business fail, the difference being that the cemetery of restaurants is in our front yard and most new startups that fail go without our ever having known they existed.

Also, has anyone heard about Winks Hilltop Grill on Conkling? No sign outside, but the lights have been off for week.

I second the person above who said that bad service was a key reason for not going somewhere anymore. I've had the same experience at Golden West - it is too darn hip for its own good. I originally raved about the food and the kitschy decor. But the second time I tried to go I saw an hour wait - on a week night - and figured that, yep, the service was just not worth the wait.

It took me about 2 or 3 years to darken Akbar Restaurant's doors again after a waiter tried to run me over with a table while I was at the buffet (and again as I was seated). I finally went back a few weeks ago, and the food was pretty average.

Though bad food + bad service really seals the deal. One night after Honfest a few years ago I went into the Grill Art with a few friends and waited and waited for the worst food I had eaten in years, or would eat since. There were not many people in the establishment, and later I found that others had received the same poor service. I am truly amazed that they are still in business.

The mortgage loans seem to be important for guys, which would like to start their business. In fact, that is not really hard to receive a small business loan.

Post a comment

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

Top Ten Tuesdays
Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Restaurant news and reviews Recently reviewed
Browse photos and information of restaurants recently reviewed by The Baltimore Sun

Sign up for FREE text alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for dining text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Food & Drink newsletter
Need ideas for dinner tonight? A recommendation for the perfect red wine?'s Food & Drink newsletter is there to help.
See a sample | Sign up

Stay connected