ELLICOTT CITY, MD., AUG. 3 -- Two days after their employer was shot and killed by an armed robber, workers at the Pirate's Cove restaurant in Howard County said they plan to reopen for business Tuesday, knowing that George Prassos would have wanted it that way.

"To George, his customers were like a family; he thought if he closed on a holiday, they would feel neglected and would have nowhere to go," said Carla Casolo, a bookkeeper who worked with the 59-year-old Prassos for 15 years and described him as a dedicated businessman who took time off only to play golf or be with his family.

Prassos died Sunday afternoon after being taken to Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, where he underwent emergency surgery for a single bullet wound in the abdomen. According to Howard County police, he was shot after he tried to struggle with an armed robber to whom he had just handed the contents of his office safe. The gunman reportedly entered the restaurant, located on Rte. 40 near the intersection of Rte. 29, through an unlocked kitchen door about 9:20 a.m. as Prassos and chef James Houston were preparing to open for the day.

Sgt. Angus Park, a police spokesman, said the incident is part of a string of armed robberies that have beset shopping centers and restaurants on Rte. 40 during the last year. He said Rte. 40's access to major highways and surrounding jurisdictions made it a prime target for criminals from Baltimore and Anne Arundel County. Most of the other cases have resulted in arrests of people from outside communities, he said.

On the heavy wooden front door of the restaurant today hung a sign apologizing for any inconvenience. Inside, employes and a couple of regulars gathered by the bar of the dimly lit steak and seafood eatery and recalled the proud man who they said was as much a friend as a boss or host.

Houston, who was told by the robber to lie on the floor while Prassos opened the office safe, said he was surprised that Prassos attempted to struggle with the gunman. "So many times he had told me, 'If anything happens just give them the money. I don't want anything to happen to you.' I guess he figured . . . . I don't know," Houston recalled.

In many ways, Prassos' was a typically American success story, although his friends said he would probably be embarrassed by such a description. A native of Greece who had moved to the United States when he was 18, Prassos had worked throughout his life in restaurant jobs in New York and New Jersey. He moved to Maryland in the early 1970s, and while working as a chef at two of Howard County's best restaurants, saved up enough money to open his own establishment 10 years ago.

Dorothy Barnett, a customer from Montgomery County who became friends with Prassos after she and her husband began dining at his restaurant regularly, recalled drinking Greek wine with the restaurant owner the night before his death. Although he was always good-natured, he was in particularly fine spirits that night, she said, and she and her husband lingered at the Pirate's Cove until almost midnight.

At one point, the talk turned to cemeteries, Barnett said, and she explained that she and her husband had purchased two burial plots, an idea that Prassos scoffed at.

"He said, 'When I die, just throw me on a trash heap,' " Barnett said. "It seems so strange {now} that we had had that conversation."

Elena Zanellotti, the restaurant's head chef and a close friend of Prassos' for 20 years, said, "I really thought he was going to be okay because when he was getting into the ambulance, one of the waiters said, 'George, I'm going with you.' And he said, 'No, you go back and take care of the place. Don't worry about it . . . . ' It won't be the same Pirate's Cove without him."