It's been about a year since 49-year-old Paul Mettee took over Maria's of Carney on Ridgely Road and in that time he said he's seen the business start a turnaround that he hopes to see continue.
"It was pretty hard to get this store from buried to where we’re at today. First year we sold over 13,000 pizzas—for being in a recession, for all the competition, that's pretty good," Mettee said.
Mettee, who used to run LaPore's sub shop in the Belair-Edison neighborhood where he grew up, used his expertise after 18 years in the carryout business to build the business back up.
"When I walked in here in August 2010, I just couldn't believe the conditions in the store," Mettee said. "The hardest part was getting back our reputation."
Maria's is a locally-owned chain, and the Carney location is owned and operated by Mettee who works there with his son, Paul Jr., and other family members. He said that the key to the restaurant's success is honest, home made food.
One thing that keeps customers coming back is the pizza sauce, which is prepared in the store from scratch and Mettee said he oversees every batch.
"I have the original recipe, I’ve gotten from the original Maria's. [The old owners] had that recipe too, but they didn’t do it correctly. There’s a way to prepare it so it doesn’t taste to sweet," Mettee said. "It takes about an hour and a half to prepare it correctly and adding the right ingredients at the right time gets you that nice kick at the end."
Mettee said that he's known customers to come from as far away as Harford County to get a taste of that sauce, but that's not the only thing that keeps customers coming through the doors.
"We try to put all the good ingredients in and put out a good product for a good price," Mettee said.
To help make sure they've got a great price the carryout offers a myriad of discounts—police and fire, military, schools, seniors, even area businesses.
"Our business lunch specials that we just made available to the public, that's give-away prices, man," Mettee said. "But it's something I want to do because I know that it's going to come back to me. It’s tough out there right now in this economy ...I look back and say 'how can I help them?' ... we do it through menus, specials and pricing."
Back in the 80's when Mettee, a Bel Air resident, ran LaPore's he said he was very involved with the business community—something he looks forward to doing more of at Maria's.
"We are part of the Senior Center Diners' Club, we just helped Loch Raven High School out with a fundraiser by donating pizza," Mettee said. "We're trying to work with St. Ursula's and the rec baseball league."
And that's just the beginning—Mettee said he hopes to organize community events as well; he wants to host a family movie night in the store's parking lot over the summer, run a program to teach kids about running a business, and maybe work out a "First Fridays" promotion with live music.
"I want to get involved with the business community here. I’d like to see what they have going on in this vicinity and go from there," Mettee said. "I like to give back if I can."