Owners of Anchor Inn say smoking ban sunk business
Aug. 18, 2004
Erin Uy
Staff Writer

Laurie DeWitt/The Gazette

A landmark Wheaton restaurant for the past 50 years, Anchor Inn closed its doors Aug. 11. The longtime owners say business at the University Boulevard eatery in the months after Montgomery County banned smoking from restaurants in October 2003.

Even before George and Mickie Kephart drove to Anchor Inn in Wheaton Friday, the Rockville couple had already decided what they were having for dinner: the Mariner's Platter and oysters on the half shell, their favorites.

With fresh seafood in mind, they didn't think much of the empty parking lot on University Boulevard. But when George pulled on the locked door and read the note, he realized that his Friday night tradition of about 50 years had ended.

"Gone fishing. Thank you for your 50 years of loyal patronage. We have enjoyed the pleasure of serving you and your family fresh Chesapeake Bay Seafood for over three generations," the note to customers read in part.

"It's unbelievable," said George Kephart. "What a bummer."

The restaurant served its last dinner Aug. 11 to their closest patrons, family and friends after being sold to Bethesda-based Greenhill Capital Corporation. The owner, Harry "Selby" Scaggs Sr., said poor business in the months after Montgomery County banned smoking in restaurants prompted the sale.

It is unknown what will take Anchor Inn's place.

A call made to Leonard Greenberg of Greenhill Capital Corporation was not returned by press time.

However, the restaurant's closing was news to the disappointed regulars who peeped into the empty building last weekend. The family restaurant served as a backdrop for graduation celebrations, traditional Friday nights out, club meetings, wedding anniversaries and Mother's Day lunches.

"It has always been quality food," George Kephart said. "We had anniversaries and New Year's here."

For Andrea Ligon of Silver Spring, who was at a store across the street, the Anchor Inn was the site of her very first date. She remembered the dim, romantic lighting and atmosphere of the restaurant.

"It just has character, you know," Ligon said.

On other days, the restaurant hosted her family celebrations, nights out with her grandparents, and simply a good place to eat shrimp -- all kinds, Ligon said.

The Anchor Inn has also been a tradition for the Scaggs family, which has operated the restaurant along with others in the area like the Stained Glass Pub in Glenmont, Stained Glass Pub Too in Olney and Madison's Steak House in Olney.

Anchor Inn held deep sentimental value, but Harry "Selby" Scaggs Sr. said the restaurant could not win its fight with the smoking ban. Since the ban was implemented October 2003 by the Montgomery County Council, Scaggs said Anchor Inn suffered a 40 percent loss in Keno, beer, wine, liquor and food sales.

Prior to the ban, Scaggs had installed a $350,000 ventilation system in the restaurant with air exchangers that took in smoke and replaced it with fresh air. Scaggs, who was a vocal opponent of the smoking ban, said Anchor Inn struggled because it was close to restaurants in Prince George's County and northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., which allowed smoking.

"It's sad and it's a relief," Scaggs said. "The smoking ban, regardless of what you would hear from the County Council, it took its toll in 2003 and carried over to 2004.

"We feel like 50 years is a good run and it's time for us to move on to new ventures," he said.

But the old memories will remain, said William Bobow, owner of Elbe's Beer and Wine of Wheaton, which has been near Anchor Inn since it opened. Bobow, who ate at the restaurant nearly every day, said many older generations would miss the restaurant that was a symbol of continuity and small-town traditions.

The closure also ends the tradition of the Kiwanis Club of Wheaton, which held its weekly Wednesday afternoon meetings at Anchor Inn for as long as anyone can remember. On the club Web site, a picture of the Anchor Inn is on the home page.

Kiwanis meetings were often held in the Mariner's Room, where people gathered over seafood lunch specials to listen to a guest speaker, said Ellen Riger, a Kiwanis member.

"I will remember it as the home for the Kiwanis meeting, and a special place that was family-run for many years," Riger said.

Anchor Inn was part of traditions for many others in the community, said Scaggs, such as the Colesville Lions Club, Wheaton-Kensington Chamber of Commerce, Good Counsel High School and the Wheaton Volunteer Rescue Squad. The fund-raisers, high school events and community fellowship were a part of the family's service to the area apart from serving quality food, Scaggs said.

"I hope that we are missed as much as we are going to miss Wheaton," Scaggs said.