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The Story of Sip & Bite, Part 4

"It's a landmark in the same way the old Ambassador Restaurant [at Pratt and Eutaw] was…But the Sip & Bite was always a cut above because the food was better."—Steve Boone, bassist, the Lovin’ Spoonful.

When the neighborhood was still industrial—with the Standard Oil Company off of Clinton Street and the American Can Company had three shifts going around the clock—a man would come in to order food for his co-workers.

Fifty bacon and egg sandwiches and 50 cups of coffee to go!

When the Sip & Bite is banging today—a line out the door, a busy rush lasting up to five hours, late on a Saturday night or Sunday morning breakfast—there is no time to sweep the floor or empty the trash.

Thus the floor behind the counter is often covered with egg shells: to make a success in the diner business you have to break a few eggs.

There are 30 eggs per restaurant tray and ten trays per carton. At the Sip & Bite, it is not unusual for cooks to use 17 cartons of eggs between 8 a.m. and just before lunch.

In America, success is measured by revenue and renovation.

The current Sip & Bite—gleaming with Route 66 diner chrome and flat-screened TVs on the wall—looks mightily different from anything an old Boston Street sea dog would recognize.

The 21st century changes were made by George’s son Antonios—“Tony” named for his grandfather, the man who hopped a ride with a fisherman en route to America—and his wife Sofia. The new generation took over from Tony’s father in 2007.

Before they did, a good 20 years ago, George gave the place a facelift of his own.

To cheer the place up with suburban colors and new booths, George closed the restaurant for two weeks in January of 1992, an unprecedented move for a guy wished there were more days in the week and an extra hour in a day so he could be open 25/8.

One of the changes was a handicapped-access ramp. One of the things left behind was the green, office furniture chair by the meat case for parties who couldn’t crowd into a single booth.

When the place re-opened with mauve molding and $135,000 worth of improvements, George held a finger in the air and declared with the pride: “I haven't raised my prices one penny, not one penny! Where you going to go to eat a meal with two vegetables and good portions for $5? No place!''

No place now extends to the Sip & Bite of today, with the balance shifting more toward dining experience than diner.

[Tony got rid of the clear glass meat case beneath the cash register, where old-timers could view the flank of cow destined to become an open-faced hot roast beef sandwich.] 

The year of big changes—the tongs passed to a new generation—was 2012; the year of sexy chrome, award-winning gyros and spanakopita added to the menu, feature spots on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives show.

[While Tony and Sofia take off on Tuesdays, George never took more than a nap.]

Best of all, a new Vasiliades on the way with Sofia’s announcement that a new bun is in the Sip & Bite oven.

It will be George’s first grandchild and if the stars are properly aligned it will be boy. If the calendar cooperates, the child will be born on his birthday and it will be the jewel in the old man’s crown.

When he’s not playing cards with his peers or zipping around East Baltimore in an inconspicuous clunker, George sometimes drops in on his bacon-and-egg empire. His son is often at the grill while daughter-in-law Sofia charms the customers.

George watches now, claiming to notice a mistake or two (nothing more than another way of doing stuff he’s done the same way all his life) while quietly busting the buttons on his sport coat with pride.

He looks over the plates of strawberry waffles and BLT’s rolling off the grill and finds it good; a simple man you’d never know is worth a pretty penny, in his mind just a poor boy from Greece.

George Vasiliades raised a family, educated his children—Tony has a master’s degree in biology, son Christos is an attorney, daughter Maria lives in Greece—helped others when he could, and gave to his church.

"I did what I was supposed to do," he said.

William Johnson October 31, 2012 at 04:40 PM
thank you Rafael, very good article.
Guantes October 31, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Thanks for this nice series of stories on the Sip & Bite. I haven't been back since I worked in Fell's Point in the mid eighties, but thanks to Mr. Alvarez I'll be visiting soon. If I can find parking.
Allen Baker January 19, 2013 at 12:25 AM
Nice piece Rafael. A constant on the Baltimore waterfront and a remnant of the old FP we knew when we were kids and young adults.

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