The Crisfield Sea Food Restaurant in Silver Spring, a local institution that has drawn thousands of avid diners to its modest brick building in the last 42 years, is opening a restaurant up the street in one of the swankiest new buildings in the redeveloping downtown Silver Spring.
The move of Crisfield's -- known throughout the area for its long lines, fresh seafood and simple decor -- is seen as a boost to efforts to revitalize the downtown. There has been a spate of office construction in Silver Spring, but local and county officials have been frustrated by the absence of new retail businesses to draw people downtown after the office workers leave about 5 p.m.
Crisfield's will open a 152-table restaurant in the Lee Plaza at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, owner Lillian Landis said yesterday. She said she also plans to continue operating the popular restaurant at 8012 Georgia Ave. for the duration of her five-year lease, but a pending apartment project there makes its future uncertain.
"Crisfield's move represents more than just a good leasing effort on our part," developer E. Brooke Lee III told the County Council yesterday during testimony about redevelopment plans for the old downtown, "it signifies a significant vote of confidence in the future of Silver Spring."
Landis said her decision was a difficult one because the restaurant has been so successful for so long in one spot. "We're expanding because Silver Spring has a bright future," she said.
Crisfield's move has its roots in the past and in a chance meeting at the restaurant, said Blair Lee, director of corporate relations for the Lee family firm whose ancestral founders also founded Silver Spring.
Blair Lee said Lee Plaza had unsuccessfully courted several dining establishments that cater to young professionals.
He said he was eating at Crisfield's recently when one of the waiters, seeing a matchbook inscribed with the Lee Plaza logo, commented that Landis admired the new building.
"The Landis family had been approached a million times and had said no to moving or expanding, but we got to talking. We invited her to an awards ceremony . . . We showed her around and she was interested in hearing a proposal," Blair Lee said.
He said he was reading her the leasing proposal when Point Number Six, "Landlord shall abate first six months' rent," got her attention. In the 1940s, Landis said, the Lees' grandfather, Col. E. Brooke Lee, offered her the Lee family homestead as a restaurant site. And he offered her six months' free rent.
"I turned the colonel down," Landis said, "and that was a big mistake. It would have been a beautiful restaurant. So this is a second chance."
Landis said her new restaurant, which probably will open around March, will have the same type of decor, beer steins and old photographs, and will have the same menu. There will be more space and parking, she said.
Landis said that reservations and credit cards -- not allowed at the current Crisfield's -- will be accepted. And, she said, prices probably will be a bit higher. She said she knows that some people won't approve of the change, but "really it will be the same thing: me and the same food. Just a little nicer."