Leonard ‘Lenny’ Kaplan, popular figure in Baltimore restaurant scene who owned The Owl Bar and Polo Grill, dies – Baltimore Sun

Leonard “Lenny” Kaplan, a popular figure in the Baltimore restaurant scene for decades who owned The Owl Bar and the Polo Grill, died Saturday of complications of old age at his home in The Colonnade in North Baltimore. He was 85 years old.

“It’s the end of an era,” said chef John Shields of Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen. “He was one of the notable restaurant innovators around Baltimore.

“Lenny was Baltimore restaurant royalty. Him and [his wife] Gail paved the way for the culinary scene at the time.

Linwood Dame, owner of Linwoods in Owings Mills, added: ‘He was top notch – a true restaurant professional and had been there for a long time.

Born Leonard Uriah Kaplan in Jackson Heights, New York, he was the son of David and Gertrude Kaplan.

He attended Bryant High School and graduated from the University of Alabama, where he was a guard on the basketball team.

His first taste of catering was serving tables in the Catskill Mountains.

At a fraternity dance, he met his future wife, Gail Shavitz, whose father co-owned the former Nates & Leons restaurant and the Pimlico Hotel.

“At first I was like, ‘How can an athlete dance?’ said his wife. “But he had good moves.”

When they got married, he went into the restaurant business with his wife’s family. He would become co-owner of the Pimlico Hotel, a popular Park Heights Avenue restaurant from the 1950s to the 1990s.

During his first year there, he took his father-in-law’s advice to walk around and observe. He also slipped away to play some basketball at the Towanda Recreation Centre, his wife said.

His restaurant was famous for its stuffed spring rolls and a cake named after the Preakness Stakes. Mr Kaplan had said that although his business was located near Pimlico Racecourse, he had only attended one Preakness.

He later owned 3900 Restaurant, The Owl Bar, The John Eager Howard Room, The 13th Floor, The Other Place, The Polo Grill, Lenny’s Chop House, and The Classic Catering People.

Mr Kaplan has served on the boards of The Park School, the National Restaurant Association and TurnAround, a rape crisis center in Towson.

He retired on New Year’s Eve 2002.

A Sun article published at the time said, “Lenny Kaplan, an elite name on the Baltimore restaurant scene, is not one to see the glass half empty. Of course, he might wonder if the glass could be a little more polished, or served faster, or filled exactly to the level it was always filled, or offered in better lighting, or on a more precisely spread tablecloth. , or generally absolutely represent his fairly well-defined notion of what the customer wants in a drink.

“That’s kind of what makes Lenny, Lenny – a man known for both his high standards and his ability to chew on the occasional aid,” the article reads.

“I was lucky to have relative success,” Mr. Kaplan said. “Relatively.”

He noted that his one unsuccessful business, Lenny’s Chop House, was plagued with parking problems in the inner harbor.

The article describes his “megawatt smile and keen sense of action around him that made him a successful high school and college basketball point guard. It’s the point guard who defines the game, makes sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be, anticipates next moves.

As butler, or man of the house, Mr. Kaplan spent day and night working the floors or sitting at the Bar Polo Grill, at the first stool facing the restaurant, from where he peered into the dining room like an air traffic controller.

“Lenny was the consummate leader. He could work a piece. I was in awe of him,” said Mr. Shields, of Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen.

“He was such a lovely man,” Mr Shields said. “And yet he could be tough. So many people who worked for him, and now work for me, had such respect for him. They looked at him and admired him. He set a standard.

“It’s the details,” said Mr. Kaplan, who opened the Polo Grill in 1990. “Whatever they are. I don’t think I’m picayune. I’m picky about the same details.

Critics raved about its redfish with chanterelle mushrooms, penne pasta with chicken, and an appetizer of crispy soft-shell crab seasoned with dill, coarse mustard, and horseradish.

Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer recalled his friendship with Mr. Kaplan.

“I met Lenny’s dad when I was 19 and went to a restaurant for a crab feast. I told him, ‘I don’t eat crabs.’ He made me a baloney sandwich and gave me a house bill.

“If you lived in Baltimore, you knew they had the best food and were the best caterers. And you were part of their family. I continued to play tennis and basketball with Lenny,” Mr Palmer said. .

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Mr. Palmer said he traveled to Cancun with Mr. Kaplan and their wives.

“They lost my luggage and Lenny was wearing a size 12 shoe and I was a 14. He took a pair of his tennis shoes and cut them up so my feet could fit in them. I wore them for travel with my toes sticking out.

“Some people give you the shirt on your back. Lenny gave you the shoes he had on,” Mr. Palmer said.

Mr Kaplan’s wife said her husband was a fan of opera, basketball, cards, steamed crabs, workouts and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

“Nothing gave him more joy than his family,” she said.

Services will be held at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Sol Levinson Chapel, 8900 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.

Survivors include his 63-year-old wife, the former Gail Shavitz, who worked with him in the restaurant business; one son, Jeffrey Kaplan of Chicago; two daughters, Laurie Freeman of Baltimore and Amy Kaplan, also of Chicago; one sister, Judith Brodkin of Portland, Oregon; and six grandchildren.

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