It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all — at least, that’s what the world would like us to believe.
For many Baltimoreans, losing a favorite restaurant is not so simple. The transition can feel agonizing: a “Help Wanted” sign tucked into a corner window, shortened hours and beleaguered smiles from staff that once knew your name by heart. Then, all at once, the spot you saved for celebrations and first dates is gone.
On average, restaurants tend to survive just over three years, said Diana Emerson, executive director of the Waverly Main Street organization, a nonprofit that advocates for businesses in the area. Anything more should be cherished, right?
But even with tens of thousands more jobs expected to become available in Maryland food service by 2030, according to the National Restaurant Association, the grief of losing a beloved eatery isn’t softened.
With 2024 already underway, The Banner asked readers to share their favorite establishments lost in the last few years. Here, we honor some of the spots they found worth remembering.
As my mom always says: May their memory be a blessing.
JBGB’s, of Remington, left us on Jan. 2, at the age of 2
The business was survived by its owner, Robert Voss. Born in 2021 as a sister shop to the John Brown General and Butchery in Cockeysville, JBGB’s began life with a mission to offer specialty goods at an affordable price through the space’s butchery. As time went on, that mission shifted toward the restaurant as the Remington neighborhood grew attached to the outdoor fire pit and colorful pizzas, from the scallion and bechamel to the ham and mozzarella.
But financial viability became a concern, and after getting its “legs cut off” by the pandemic, Voss said, JBGB’s struggled to attain the vitality of its larger Baltimore County relative.
Fans have called it “reliable” and “casual.” JBGB’s legacy continues to resonate with community members, who have called the closing “upsetting,” “shocking,” and, as Voss told The Banner in a previous interview, “heartbreaking.”
Joe Squared, of Station North, left us on Dec. 31, 2023, at the age of 18
The pizzeria and arts venue was survived by its workers’ collective, including Vice President Nic Johnson, a spokesman for the business. Born in 2005 at the corner of North Avenue and Howard Street, the business burst onto the scene with its square pizzas and famed risotto. Their mission: to embrace local artists and provide neighbors a sense of community.
At 10 years old, Joe Squared took a risk and made a move to a larger venue down the block, bolstered by the approval of famed restaurateur Guy Fieri, who in 2014 called the eatery’s bacon and clam pizza “crazy good.”
But life slowed for Joe Squared at 15, when the pandemic sent customers into lockdown. A cooperative of employees refused to allow the beloved restaurant to bleed, and created a new system of management that buoyed the establishment through the end of 2023.
By 18, “lower turnout, higher expenses and a lack of resources” had sealed its fate. The restaurant remained a fixture of art and community until its untimely end.
Charmington’s, of Remington, left us on Dec. 23, 2023, at the age of 13
The coffee shop was survived by its owners, Dan Scott, Cara Dudzic and Amanda Rothschild. Born in 2010 on Howard and 26th streets, the business started life as a worker-owned co-op. By the age of 5, the shop made a commitment to advocate for better worker benefits, even hosting then-President Barack Obama as he lobbied to extend paid sick leave to employees across the country.
The business grew into a respite for neighbors surviving a pandemic lockdown in 2020. About three years later, Rothschild told The Banner that Charmington’s had made the staff “better, wiser, more committed-to-the-city” in its brief lifespan. But in its last year, “the eatery wasn’t able to have enough staff, pay them equitably and ensure that customers were getting their food on a timely basis.”
Thai Restaurant, of Waverly, left us on Dec. 31, 2023, at the age of 43
The restaurant was survived by the Mettawiparee family, particularly owners Javalak and Thossapohol, a husband-and-wife team better known as Soy and Billy, respectively.
Born in 1980, the eatery opened with the purpose of introducing Baltimoreans to authentic, affordable Thai food. It quickly became a fixture for neighbors of the restaurant, who saw the Mettawiparees as family and the 3316 Greenmount Ave. building as an extension of home.
Thai Restaurant endured the pandemic, remaining open and serving customers, thanks to a discounted rent of $500. As the period of lockdown came to a close, so did the deal. The cost of rent proved too great.
A new landlord set on opening a pizza and halal restaurant delivered the final blow. The restaurant will be remembered as “some of the best Thai food in Baltimore,” Councilwoman Odette Ramos told The Banner in a previous interview.
The Red Star, of Fells Point, left us in 2023, saying it was 19 when it was really closer to 36
The Red Star was survived by original owner Mike Ashford. Born in 1987, the Wolfe Street eatery’s red bricks and quiet ambiance became a fixture in the Baltimore food scene alongside its sister bar, known as Red Star, near Johns Hopkins University. The smaller bar at the heart of Charles Village did not live past 2017.
Kevin Havens, Chris Hannan and Jim McLaughlin took over in 2004, breathing new life into the decades-old Red Star in Fells Point. The business continued to live off a legacy of craft beers and crispy pizza concoctions that ranged from pork belly pies to vegan meatballs.
But the dimly lit eatery would struggle to retain its business. The Red Star, named for the symbols that once guided sailors to the nearest brothel, met its demise in January 2023.
Chez Hugo, of downtown Baltimore, left us in 2020, at the age of 2
The restaurant was survived by owners Steve Monnier and Scott Helm. Born in 2018, the eatery burst onto the scene with the aim of reviving East Redwood and South Calvert streets.
The French establishment was “off to a promising start,” according to a 2018 review by Baltimore Sun restaurant critic Tim Smith, who referred to the “pristine and pleasant” main dining room experience and its “banquettes of a Dijon mustard hue.”
But for all the restaurant’s beauty, Chez Hugo, like many others, succumbed to pandemic-era losses, including dwindling foot traffic and “an understandable reluctance on the part of diners to visit indoor restaurants,” according to the Facebook post announcing its closure.
“It has been our great pleasure to host you at our ‘house’ these last two and a half years.”
Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar, of Towson, left us in 2022, at the age of 20
The sushi spot was survived by owner Tony Kyodai and the rest of the Kyodai family. Born in 2002, Kyodai appealed to Towson residents hungry for quality sushi at an affordable price.
Avid fan Laura Pedroso told The Banner that Kyodai played a critical role in building the relationship with her now-husband. The restaurant was known as a spot for convenient date nights and celebrating anniversaries. When announcing the closure, Tony Kyodai referred to the sushi bar as doing a “pretty good job overall,” though “you can’t please everyone.”
Financial pressures led the business into its final days in late March 2022.
“Horrible horrible news,” wrote one Reddit user at the news of Kyodai’s demise. “I thought they were invincible.”
This article has been updated to correct the location of Joe Squared.