By Steven Truant
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
At the Box Hill Shopping Center off route 924 in Abingdon, many travelers bypass the dry cleaner, Chinese restaurant and other businesses, and steer their vehicles straight to Box Hill Pizzeria and Crab Cakes.
“My wife and I have been coming here for over 25 years, we love it here,” said Mel Richter, a loyal Box Hill customer. “The food is great, and the staff is so nice. We’re here almost every week.”
The business has history. It all started when George Kanaras emigrated from Greece and came to the United States in the mid-1960s.
“My grandfather came here with only $10 in his pocket,” said Nico Kanaras, George Kanaras’ grandson and future owner of the restaurant. “He worked in a shoe factory making shoes for five or six years until he saved enough money to open his own business.”
When George Kanaras had enough money saved, he opened ‘The Red Fox’ on Main Street in Bel Air. The large, very formal restaurant thrived through the 1970s and 80s, attracting judges and lawyers who enjoyed a meal while a pianist provided background music. The business burned down in 1983.
George Kanaras helped his two sons, Tom and Chris, with a loan to start their own place. On Aug. 6, 1984, Box Hill Pizzeria was born. Many would not think that a pizzeria would be so well known for crab cakes, but at Box Hill, they have become the staple of the business.
George Kanaras and his late wife, Demetra, are the creators of the recipe and only three people that know the recipe.
“They all had to sign waivers; it’s that top secret,” said Nico Kanaras. “It’s the cream of the crop and you have to protect it.”
Nearing its 36th year in Harford County, Box Hill Pizzeria used to be a small operation only known in the county. But today, the award-winning crab cakes are known statewide and are shipped anywhere in the United States. Also the restaurant caters.
“One person tells their friends and they tell their friends and it turns into a wildfire,” Nico Kanaras said, explaining the popularity of the food. “We’ve hit all 50 states, Alaska, Hawaii, California, Texas, just goes to show that if you give people what they want, no matter where they are, they’re going to get it.”
Mary English has been a server at Box Hill for almost 18 years and has been able to watch the business grow from a small two table space into what it is today.
“I feel like I’m a part of it as well as every other employee in there,” said English. “When I started, it was the parents helping their boys run the restaurant. Now the grandson is running the business with his father and uncle. They now have shipments going out daily all over the country.”
While the crab cakes are shipped daily, the holiday season is when shipping increases. The Kanaras men said that patrons love to surprise their families living in other states with the gift of crab cakes.
“Last year we hit a record, we sent out over 15,000 crab cakes in a week and a half, just shipping,” Nico Kanaras said.
Now the Kanaras men have completed a 2 ½ year renovation project that gave the inside a complete facelift and added an outside dining patio. When the Kanarases wanted to move to a new space instead of renovating, the owner of the shopping center, Bob Ward, valued the business so much that he fronted a lot of the construction costs to keep them at the location.
“I think everyone loves it,” said Nico Kanaras. “We wanted to keep the same homey atmosphere, but we wanted to keep up with the times. It was outdated.”
Customers have all sorts of wishes. For example, one family decided to bury their mother with Box Hill crab cakes.
“Her kids came in and bought them and they actually buried this lady with crab cakes in her coffin,” said Nico Kanaras. “The guy said ‘my mom came in here every single week since day one. She loved it and loved you guys and we can’t think of a better way to send her off.’”
A good reputation does not come over night, and Nico Kanaras pointed to the family history, years of hard work and commitment to establish a popular local business.
“There’s a lot of franchises being built up now a day and, to them, you’re just a number,” he said. “At Box Hill, you’re part of the family and that’s what we strive for is making everyone feel welcome and part of the family.”