‘Grandma-chic’ brunch spot to take over Paul’s in Arbutus

William and Megan Low pose in front of Paul's, which they aim to transform into Martha's Café by the end of the year. (Courtesy of William Low)

William and Megan Low pose in front of Paul’s, which they aim to transform into Martha’s Café by the end of the year. (Courtesy of William Low)

With the closure of Paul’s Restaurant, a diner in Arbutus that had been a neighborhood staple for more than 50 years, an up-and-coming local restaurateur is stepping in to transform the space into a breakfast and lunch spot that he hopes will both maintain the love of longtime customers and attract new fans.  

William Low, the owner of Rathskeller, a German restaurant in Elkridge located in the basement of an old judge’s house, is behind the project. He and his family live in Arbutus, and Low had long hoped to open a restaurant on the town’s main street, which also includes a bubble tea shop, a cafe, a record store and a movie theater right next door to Paul’s. 

The concept behind the restaurant, called Martha’s Café, is simple: It’s an ode to everything Low’s wife, Megan, loves. The menu will be composed of her favorite comfort foods and family recipes, from BLTs to chicken and waffles, and much of the decor will be items she’s bought from vintage and antique stores. Low said the aesthetic of the restaurant will be “grandma-chic,” featuring a color palette of Robin’s egg blues and whites, and “lots of cursive.” 

The name of the restaurant even references Megan — the titular “Martha” is the name of a stuffed zebra that she got as a child when she was in the hospital with leukemia. Luckily, she participated in an experimental treatment and has been cancer free ever since. 

“It’s a great success story – almost miraculous, if you will. A lot of her friends from the hospital have passed away,” Low said. “Martha’s an ode to that trying time.” 

In addition to selling breakfast and lunch staples — with plans to expand to dinner eventually — Martha’s Café will be notable for its expansive mocktail selection. The restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license, so Low hopes its mocktail offerings will appeal to people in the area who don’t drink, including younger students at the nearby University of Maryland, Baltimore County. 

Paul’s closed earlier this year after over 50 years in operation. Originally founded by Paul Maus, the diner sold in 1980 to Clemis A. Kaikis, who promised to maintain the restaurant’s name as long as he owned the establishment, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. The restaurant, including its furniture, fixtures and equipment, was sold at auction for $503,500 in May. 

While some locals are sad to see Paul’s go, many expressed excitement when Low announced on Facebook that he had bought the iconic diner.

“Welcome to the neighborhood. Hoping for a fresh breath for an established popular eatery,” one commented.

Ultimately, Low hopes the restaurant, which is slated to open later this year, will continue to appeal to the customers who have been coming to Paul’s for years, while also drawing in other demographics. 

“It’s a lot of comforting foods that people who were fans of Paul’s would be a fan of as well,” he said. “(But) it will also be done in a more modern way.” 

Low is no stranger to the local restaurant scene, having worked in restaurants across Howard County, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., since he was 15 years old.

Rathskeller is the first restaurant he’s helmed; he originally met the restaurant’s landlord through another food industry job, selling wine, and served as a consultant while the landlord devised the concept for, and eventually opened, the restaurant

Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Low offered to take the restaurant off the former owner’s hands, reworking its menu from large entrees like pork chops and salmon to sharable platters that can be split between two to four people.

“If the pandemic never happened, who knows, maybe the customers wouldn’t have liked it as much. I’m not sure what would’ve happened,” Low said. “It gave us an opportunity to tap into that Elkridge market.”

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