Food & Drink

The Oregon Grille’s Ted Bauer Readies for Atlas Restaurant Group Handoff

Before Atlas officially becomes the majority owner of Bauer’s historic Baltimore County properties, the restaurateur takes a look back on his 43-year career.
Owner Ted Bauer photographed at The Valley Inn in 2014. —Photography by Scott Suchman

Restaurateur Ted Bauer has long been a fixture in the Baltimore food scene, having owned historic properties including the The Valley Inn, The Oregon Grille, and Mt. Washington Tavern—which he sold in 2007 (and where he once consulted with a NASA scientist for the tavern’s retractable roof for the second-level outside dining and bar area.)

Bauer, who also owns roadside pizza joint Butler Cabin in Butler, didn’t set out to go into hospitality. When he graduated from Washington & Lee University with degrees in psychology and art history, he joined the U.S. World Lacrosse Team, traveling from Australia to Thailand to England, and briefly playing lacrosse for a pro box league until the team folded.

Having done a short stint at The Crease in Towson, he decided to take a job at an American-style saloon called O’Henry’s on Centre Street in Mt. Vernon. 

“I was just going to work there for the spring and summer, then go up to New England and come back and go nine-to-five,” recalls Bauer, who is a member of the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame. “But right before I left, one of the owners asked if I’d like to stay and help him run the place—I was there for two-and-a-half years. When I left, I was riding the roller coaster of whether I was going to get Mt. Washington Tavern, and 30 days later I did. I had been bitten by the bug. We opened in November of 1979—I was 26 at the time.” 

To date, the Baltimore-born Bauer has been at it for 43 years, so when Alex Smith, founder of the Atlas Restaurant Group, called Bauer about the possibility of buying The Valley Inn and The Oregon Grille to add to his ever-growing portfolio, he decided to go for it. 

“It’s been a long road for my career,” Bauer says. “I wasn’t exactly thinking about leaving this year, but maybe in the next few years. Alex and I talked throughout the summer. It wasn’t until the fall when something came together  and we struck a deal.” 

Now that the deal is about to go through—at midnight on New Year’s Eve, after which Bauer will stay on as a consultant to The Valley Inn and become a minority owner of The Oregon Grille—he’s feeling understandably nostalgic. 

“Alex grew up going to my restaurants,” says Bauer, “so I guess I’ll grow old going to his.” 

What’s it like for you to hand over these properties?
Over the last 43 years, we were able to create and provide three historic venues that led to so many special memories for the public, while becoming social institutions and legacy properties that became woven into the fabric and history of the Baltimore scene. These properties have become the heritage of Baltimore. The handoff is important. You have to feel good about the people you are entrusting it to. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn’t—and I have every reason in the world to expect this to work out. This is a stewardship and I think Alex is the right guy for the job.

I know there will be menu tweaks for The Valley Inn, can you share plans for The Oregon Grille?
The Oregon Grille will remain open for the next three months while we plan for the renovation. I already had a detailed plan of what I was going to do outside, that was in the works. But they are interested in doing a little more inside, as well. Alex uses designer Patrick Sutton. We will close during the spring and for the bulk of summer and reopen in August-September with a fresh look and a new outside.

“Alex grew up going to my restaurants,” says Bauer, “so I guess I’ll grow old going to his.” 

Do you have any favorite memories from throughout the years?
In 1982, World Game Lacrosse was in town right after the U.S. won. The entire Australian team and the U.S. team were in the bar at Mt. Washington Tavern. That was the only time in my 28 and a half years there that I felt the entire building shake—it was remarkable. That’s when I knew we had it going on.

Any memories from The Valley Inn?
[As a kid,] I remember going to The Valley Inn and [then-owner] Bud Hatfield making me wear this gray sport coat because I didn’t have one. I hated it. Thirty years later, I made people wear sports coats at The Oregon Grille. We had a whole closet of blue blazers from [Jos. A] Banks. We learned to size people by the length of their arms. They were nice sports coats—and we’d lose 15 to 20 blazers a year. Not one person ever brought one back.

Do you think your background in sports helped you in business?
Athletics prepares you to be competitive in the business world, as well as hard-working and focused. You tend to overachieve to a degree. 

“Over the last 43 years, we were able to provide three historic venues that led to so many special memories for the public, while becoming woven into the fabric and history of the Baltimore scene,” Bauer says. “These properties have become the heritage of Baltimore.”

What do you think of the way in which the food scene seems to be expanding in the county?
Downtown has had its problems and the pandemic hasn’t helped anyone. For the amount of people who have moved to the county from the city or wherever, there were probably areas that were underserved, and so there was a need for more spots, but it depends on what they are. It’s easy to create a reason to come. It’s new and the place is good-looking, but you have to create a reason for them to come back, which is obviously through good food, drink, and hospitality.

What would you say to your young son if he wanted to go into the restaurant business?
I’ll tell you what I tell anyone who tells me they want to go into the restaurant business: Go home and lie down until you feel better. It’s a rough business. I’ve been very fortunate, but it takes a great deal of your life in terms of sacrifice. It’s not for the faint of heart.

“It’s easy to create a reason to come,” Bauer says, “but you have to create a reason for them to come back.”

What will you do on your last night before the deal goes down?
I’m going to be consistent with what I’ve always done at The Grille on New Year’s Eve. I will work the front door like I do on Saturday nights and holidays.  After that, I’ll leave prior to midnight and get down to The Valley Inn. We will have some entertainment out back with an après ski party. I will spend some time down there and walk out a free man.