As the Pizza Turns? Days of Our Soups? Dinner With the Stars?

A soap opera restaurant?


If eating in front of the TV is your idea of gracious dining, then the Queenstown Soap Opera Restaurant in Mt. Rainier, Md., may be your kind of place. Just choose something from the menu--a J.R. Burger perhaps, or the entree "Laura's Lost at Sea" (otherwise known as butterfly shrimp). Then settle in front of the six-foot TV screen and spend the next several hours watching your favorite soap.

"You try any way you can to increase business," says Queenstown owner Jerry Gurewitz. "Over the last seven years business had been falling off, so in February I hired a consulting firm, and they told me about this soap thing.

"At first I was sitting there with my mouth open, but since then everything I hear on the radio and TV is about soap operas."

So the long process of creating the first of a new breed of restaurants began. It wasn't easy.

"It's really hard to get things for the walls," Gurewitz says, speaking with the wearied determination of someone who's been put on hold more times than he can remember. "The stars are really slow about sending things in."

But things are coming together. Like the clapper boards. The lunch and dinner specials will be on those little chalkboards they clap together when they shout "Take One!" (Whether grumpy waiters and waitresses will be tempted to clap the board's wooden arms down if they don't get a big enough tip remains to be seen.)

And there's "Raven." On Sept. 24 Sharon Gabet of ABC's "The Edge of Night" will appear at the restaurant. In the afternoon, Gabet, or "Raven," to those who know her from the small screen, will sign autographs and chat with restaurant guests, and then one lucky person will win that most treasured of prizes: Dinner With the Star.

All of this seems rather strange to Jerry Gurewitz. His family has owned what used to be simply the Queenstown Restaurant for 31 years. He grew up there, but he knows that nostalgia has no role in the restaurant business.

"You have to redo a restaurant every few years," he says. "And the area has seen a lot of changes. A long time ago it used to be families. Now there are a lot of college students, and a lot of older people."

The kind of crowd that was just waiting for a soap opera restaurant?

"From what I understand," says Gurewitz, who's done a lot of research on the subject recently, "the college kids really go after it."

Plans for the future?

More stars, certainly. Perhaps a video recorder to tape favorite soap episodes, although Gurewitz says he's heard "there seems to be problems with the law with that."

Gurewitz still isn't sure if what he calls "the soap opera concept" will succeed. He put a screen in only one of his two dining rooms, so that customers who haven't been won over to soaps yet can avoid the murders and affairs and international drug rings.

Sometimes Gurewitz walks into the soap dining room and all the customers are watching the screen; at other times they seem completely uninterested. He thinks most people are still coming to the restaurant because of the food, which hasn't changed, even though all of the dishes have been renamed.

"In the Italian dinners we have 'Erica,' and 'Silver,' " he says, then makes sure you know that those two women appear on ABC's "All My Children." "They're both lasagnas. 'Erica' is regular lasagna, and 'Silver' is spinach lasagna."

It's another world.