Richard Franyo spent most of the past 30 years steeped in high finance -- investment banking and taking young companies public. But as he was leading one of the most accomplished investment-banking operations in the country, he often thought about the bar he hoped to open one day.
He found just the place for it: the corner of Fourth Street and Severn Avenue in the Eastport section of Annapolis, across the street from the marina on a popular stretch of watering holes and restaurants a couple of blocks from the house he owns. When Franyo retired from his job at Deutsche Bank Alex Brown, that was where he was going to go.
There was just one problem: There was already a bar at the corner of Fourth and Severn, and it was not for sale -- yet.
"You're an investment banker," his wife, Susan, told him. "Go do the deal."
Franyo tracked down the bar's owner, who lived in England, and negotiated a sale. He tore down the bar and built a new one. Now Franyo, who retired from Deutsche Bank last March, presides over the Boatyard Bar & Grill. It was an unlikely end to a 30-year career in finance, but probably one that many of his former colleagues wish they could have themselves.
"I can't tell you how many hundreds of guys I know have threatened at some point in their career go open a bar," said Harry Gruner, a Baltimore venture capitalist who used to work with Franyo. "He's the only guy I know who did it."
Franyo, fresh out of Harvard Business School in 1972, started as an analyst at Baltimore's Alex Brown & Sons, the oldest investment bank in the country. Three years later he started one of the nation's first investment banking divisions focused on technology. Over the next 15 years, the division managed or co-managed stock offerings for what were to become some of the world's leading technology firms. Alex Brown brought America Online Inc. and networking software maker Novell Inc. public. It had a hand in selling the first shares of Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Silicon Graphics Inc., among others. In a 10-year stretch in the 1980s and early 1990s, Alex Brown was Wall Street's most prolific underwriter of initial public offerings.
But over the years both the investment banking business and Alex Brown changed.
In the late 1990s, the IPO business went mass market. Every technology company with an idea seemingly could sell shares to the public, and every major investment house was willing to do it.
Alex Brown merged with Bankers Trust in 1997. Bankers Trust was acquired by Deutsche Bank in 1999. In the past year, the Alex Brown name was dropped from the corporate title.
The Alex Brown that Franyo remembers, of "partners eating oyster stew in the corporate dining room," is gone. But it was more than the bank's change in culture that led to his decision to leave the firm. As much as Franyo enjoyed being a banker, after three decades it was time for something new. Opening a bar, something he had been thinking of for years, seemed like a great thing to try next.
"I couldn't just retire, I needed a business," he said. "I figured this isn't rocket science."
Franyo, 58, boyish-looking with sandy hair, now has lunch at a table near the door of his bar, where he can say hello to or talk shop with the steady stream of Eastport regulars coming in for lunch. Oyster stew is not on the menu.
"He wasn't your typical Gordon Gekko type of Wall Street guy," said Scott Levy, who worked for Franyo at Deutsche Bank.
The genial Franyo, who former colleagues said was the kind of businessman clients would invite to play golf or go sailing, seemed well suited to a second life as a restaurant owner.
"Investment banking the way he practiced it was a relationship business," said Tim Weglicki, a venture capitalist who worked with Franyo at Alex Brown. "It's where you establish long-term relationships with customers. I guess being in the bar business is pretty similar. It's a business where relationships are critical to success."
So is finding the market, which Franyo was lucky enough to do in Eastport. Across a short bridge from Annapolis, Eastport is a world away from the well-manicured and tourist-frequented main drag that runs from the State House to the water. On Super Bowl Sunday in 1998, Eastporters declared "independence" from Annapolis proper and proclaimed a "maritime republic." The "revolution," Eastporters proudly recount, began in a bar.
Over the decades, any number of the bars along Severn Avenue catered to residents, sailors and the men who worked in the boatyards. When the most recent local hangout, Marmaduke's, was turned into a Ruth's Chris Steak House, locals were at a loss.
The closing of Marmaduke's created a vacuum, said Jeff Holland, who has lived in and around Eastport for 22 years. "That was a gathering place for guys who worked in the neighborhood, for people who lived in the neighborhood. It was known as a sailors' pub."
Sailors and locals -- Franyo was both after he bought his Eastport home -- were the market his new bar would pursue. After buying Patton's Pub and running it for a year, Franyo and his wife tore it down and started from scratch. With input from locals and a fanatical devotion to the things that make good bars great, including lessons from Jimmy Buffet on the perfect bar, they built the Boatyard Bar & Grill, which opened in October 2001.
Franyo and his wife declined to say how much money it took to buy the land and build the new bar from scratch, but it took some sacrifices. "Instead of building our dream house, we built our dream bar," Susan Franyo said.
The bar is bright and airy. Richard Franyo explained how each design choice, from the use of mahogany to a kitchen that opens up into the restaurant, was the result of months of research and planning. The walls are lined with sailing pictures and artifacts, many provided by Eastport sailors or culled from local boatyards.
The denizens of Eastport made the Boatyard their own. Without disclosing figures, Franyo said the bar considerably exceeded his sales expectations in the first year, something he largely attributes to having found an experienced and capable manager.
Franyo's involvement, he joked, is picking up cigarette butts from the parking lot and making sure the flags in front don't get tangled. But he's also responsible for marketing, making deals that help draw customers through special events and other promotions
"He sort of knows how to work being a host," said Fred Hecklinger, a local boat inspector. "Like the saloonkeeper, the publican in England, the innkeeper. He is an entertainer and he is a host."
Hecklinger, who's been working in Annapolis for more than 40 years, is part of the Annapolis sailing community that now frequents Franyo's bar. The regulars include Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer, who held court at a corner table at lunch one recent Monday. She said she also likes to stop by the bar for dinner after late-night meetings.
"You open a place," Franyo said, "you never know who you're gonna get."