Even if Lou and Char Sharkey didn't have customers waiting in line every morning at Pete's Grille -- 26 counter seats can turn over only so fast -- their humble greasy spoon just north of downtown would never need to advertise.

After all, it has Michael.

As in Michael Phelps. The 19-year-old swimmer is a regular here, although that, in and of itself, is hardly unusual. Pete's has a couple hundred customers who stop by daily.

But none of the others comes trailed by photographers for Sports Illustrated and Time magazine, by camera crews for major television networks and by the likes of Tom Brokaw. Nor has any other Pete's habitue sat next to Jay Leno and told a national audience about this corner eatery, a mainstay in Baltimore's working-class neighborhood of Waverly.

For months, as hype about Phelps's eight-medal potential in Athens escalated, his affection for Pete's and his appetite for Olympian-size breakfasts there has put it in the limelight.

The attention has been far beyond anything the Sharkeys have seen in their 13 years of ownership, a stretch that includes Bill Clinton stepping in once. And they've taken their sudden fame in stride. No fancy upgrades. Scrapple has stayed on the menu. There's still a broken S on the nameplate on the GIRLS bathroom door, and the same letter is still missing entirely on the GUY door.

Lou, whose skill with wisecracks matches his famous customer's talent in the pool, dared Phelps to tell Leno that the restaurant was "some hole in the wall with some fat, bald guy with dirty fingers."

"He didn't have the guts," Sharkey said with obvious glee during the breakfast rush Saturday.

The only change at Pete's hangs on the outside of its red-brown brick building. "Good Luck Mike. Go for Gold," reads the sizable banner, illustrated not only with a goldish medal but the five intertwined Olympic rings.

"He's been eating here since he was 15," Char Sharkey explained between coffee refills. "He's the hometown kid."

Calculating how much the 6-foot-4 athlete may have consumed at her counter as he trained toward superstardom is impossible. But after a typical a.m. workout of six or so miles in the water, he typically has: two egg-and-cheese sandwiches with lettuce, tomato and mayo, a bowl of grits, a western omelet with cheese, French toast (four slices) and chocolate-chip pancakes. Which he always washes down with . . . water.

The first time Phelps came in with his swim buddies and ordered, Sharkey was dubious. But the kid kept eating. And eating. "I finally said, 'What? You got a worm or something?' "

Not that the cook, days away from turning 36, can't keep up. His wife and the other waitresses may be in constant motion serving, but he is a frenzy of stirring, scraping and flipping, managing two grills and a waffle iron.

"There's not many places like this left anymore," said Linda Pompa, a devoted patron who works around the corner.

Phelps has been gone since the U.S. Olympic Trials in California last month, but he has called frequently to say hello and sends Lou text messages on his cell phone.

Sharkey sent one of his own the other day to tell Phelps that -- he swears -- a representative for celebrity Paris Hilton had contacted him looking for a number for the swimmer.

"OMG," Phelps typed back.

Thanks to another message, the staff at Pete's knew early Saturday that their boy had won his morning heat in the 400-meter individual medley.

Several times they looked at the clock, calculating the time difference to Athens. About 12:30 p.m. in Baltimore, they figured, he should be swimming for his first gold.

Sharkey had a television ready -- a grainy, tiny-screened black-and-white that he set behind the counter, in the line of sight of the grill. But instead of the IM final, the time-delayed coverage was still showing an earlier heat. Phelps was way out ahead.

"Geez, look at him," Lou crowed, ignoring everything else, including bacon and sausage.

Minutes later, the phone rang. It was Lou's grandmother in Greece. She had just been watching Michael live.

"Hey, Char," Sharkey called out across the restaurant, triumphant, as Char gave a two-thumbs up.

"He broke his own world record. He got the gold!"

In February, Heather Stevens totals Michael Phelps's big breakfast check.Owner Lou Sharkey minds the grill at Pete's Grille in Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood.