In 1936, Sidney Friedman was riding a train to Baltimore and carrying a charcoal grill. Earlier that week, Friedman had dined at Ray's Steak House in Chicago and ate his very first charcoal-grilled steak. He'd never had anything like it. He asked the chefs how they made the steaks and immediately set out to get a grill of his own. When Sidney got back, he fired up the grill and started running the restaurants most iconic advertisement: "Cut your steak with a fork, else tear up the check and walk out."
The Chesapeake Restaurant had its beginnings in a deli established by Sidney's father, Morris Friedman, who immigrated to Baltimore in 1898. In 1913, he opened a gourmet deli under his name, and in 1933, after the end of Prohibition, he remodeled the deli and turned it into the Chesapeake Restaurant. The restaurant was in a prime location, only a couple blocks from Penn Station. It quickly became the go-to place for upscale Maryland seafood.
When Sidney took over and introduced the charcoal-grilled steaks a few years later, the popularity of the Chesapeake Restaurant continued to grow. According to him, the Chesapeake Restaurant was the first restaurant in Baltimore to serve a Caesar salad. In the 1950's, Sidney's younger brother Phillip took over after graduating from Cornell's School of Hotel Administration. In 1961, Phillip bought the Hasslinger's seafood restaurant next door, and the Chesapeake expanded from 29 seats to 300.
The Chesapeake Restaurant became one of the most expensive and exclusive restaurants in the city. It attracted all sorts of Baltimore celebrities, from newscasters to athletes. The massive restaurant featured a number of special lounges, including a room built as a shrine to Babe Ruth packed with memorabilia. The restaurant suffered a devastating fire in 1974 and continued operations until it went bankrupt in 1983. The family managed to purchase the restaurant back later that year, but could only stay afloat for another two years. The restaurant was sold at a foreclosure auction to Robert Sapero, and for the first time in 50 years, was no longer in the Friedman family's name.
Sapero's attempts to reboot the Chesapeake Restaurant failed and the building remained abandoned after 1989. Ultimately, Station North Development Partners LLC bought the building and a new restaurant opened there in 2013. The building is now occupied by the Pen & Quill Restaurant.