Nancy by SNAC: Food, fun and the feeling of family

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Customers call each day to confirm the presence of this amazing shrimp salad.

By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO

Food has long been considered one of the best ways to bring people together. At Nancy by SNAC, owners Kevin “Downtown” Brown and William “Chef Bill” Maughlin whip up a recipe of reasonably-priced good food, served by genial hosts in a cheerful atmosphere, with a generous dash of daily shenanigans, wrapped in a welcoming warmth that many customers describe simply as “home.”

Chef Bill says that venturing into the restaurant business was a natural extension of his childhood. “My interest has always been food.  I’ve always held jobs in the food service industry, most of my life. I worked alongside my mother as a teenager growing up in York Haven, Pa. and performed nearly every kitchen task possible!”

Nancy by SNAC owners William “Chef Bill” Maughlin and Kevin “Downtown” Brown.

His prowess in the kitchen shines brightly in everything he prepares, from the establishment’s all-day breakfast offerings to its popular lunch specials, and attracts supporters from all over Baltimore and beyond.

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“We serve breakfast all day. So, lots of people are grateful for that, especially students, artists and folks who don’t get up early,” says Brown. “Favorites include hot Cornbread Waffles, North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ topped with coleslaw and, of course, Chef Bill’s Delicious Jumbo Shrimp Salad Sandwich. Our in-house Iced Lemon Ginger Tea, with fresh mint and lemon wedges, is quite popular.”

Kevin keeps his customers happy, a fact to which former City Councilman Carl Stokes and Marc Steiner can attest.

Larry Simmons, who previously lived in the area and is the director of community engagement for Nobody Asked Me Campaign (https://www.nobodyaskedmebmore.org/), says he has frequented Nancy for about two years. He was drawn to the restaurant’s family-like atmosphere and quickly established a fondness for breakfast and Chef Bill’s highly acclaimed shrimp salad as his favorite.

Moving away has not stopped his patronage. “I used to live in the area, but I live in Edmondson Village, now. I’m here about once or twice a month. Not every week but often enough to have a favorite and to know what’s good… and often enough to want bring my mother.”

Sequinta L. Hill looks over Kevin’s shoulder

As she enjoyed her breakfast of egg on a bagel and home fries, his mom, Karen Outlaw, expressed her pleasure with the meal and her surroundings. The Woodlawn resident echoed her son’s approval of the atmosphere and noted that she especially enjoyed Nancy’s “look and living room feel.”

According to Brown, the look and feel of Nancy is by design. Prior to opening Nancy, the couple owned and operated Station North Arts Café Gallery (SNAC) where he says they created a “Mama’s Kitchen and Auntie’s Parlor” mood. “What I wanted for Nancy by SNAC was not so much an attachment to the brand but an extension of who we were becoming in the community.  Our family of friends and customers are from all walks of life, and it was important to curate a public art and dining experience where art objects and food engage the senses and encourage guest-to-guest interactions,’ he explains.

The art is an entire character in the Nancy saga and is changed without notice.

While Chef Bill masters the kitchen, Kevin “Downtown” Brown applies his entire personality and previous experience in theater arts, journalism, and communications, as the front man, moving about, creating an atmosphere of welcome and well-being. His persona as one who has never met a stranger works like a magnet when it comes to engaging with his guests.

Anelda Peters, a resident in Station North Arts District for more than 20 years, says that Kevin and Bill were among the first people she met when she relocated to the area. She has frequented Nancy since it opened and was a familiar face at SNAC, along with her late husband, Roy Crosse, a visual and performing artist who sometimes performed with his band there and operated WestNorth Studio. She says she was taken, immediately, with the welcoming aura of the space, which allows for engaging in conversations with others or sitting alone to soak it all in.

The art is an entire character in the Nancy saga and is changed without notice.

Peters’ favorite offering is the egg and bacon on rye breakfast sandwich, but she stays on the alert for the lunch special announcements, especially Chef Bill’s jumbo shrimp salad sandwich. She generally stops in at least once a week for breakfast, but she often supplies fresh mint from her garden for their much-loved lemon-ginger tea with mint. Sometimes, she stops by to peek at the artwork on display and furniture arrangement, which both change rather frequently,

“On any given day, when you go in there, the space has been rearranged. You never know what it’s going to look like, so it always feels like a surprise. It’s just so refreshing,” she exclaims!

The interesting assortment of folks who frequent Nancy also add to the experience. You just never know who you may run into. Former Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes has been there from the start. SNAC opened during the time he served as the district’s councilman, and he quickly became a regular, who followed them to their new haunt when Nancy opened.

“Now I go about once a week. Pre-pandemic, I went, maybe two, three times a week and frequently took breakfast and lunch meetings there,” says Stokes, who has also placed orders by phone for curb-side pick-up.

Stokes has a host of reasons for his support, ranging from good food made with fresh ingredients to the eclectic clientele. When it comes to his favorite meals, he says, “For breakfast, I’m a real Baltimorean, and I love to go in and get scrambled eggs and scrapple. At lunchtime, I like their chicken salad or shrimp salad, on a multigrain toast. Generally, I like a nice piece of pound cake or cornbread, which is just as sweet as the cake.”

He says that watching Kevin and Bill interacting with their “guests,” then playing off of them and each other, makes the meal even more enjoyable. It’s a fun and positive experience, provided by folks he sees as real community partners, who, before the pandemic were also able to provide jobs and training to several young people.

Although Nancy has remained open for business throughout the pandemic, some unfortunate changes were necessary to make that happen. “We down-staffed to our original two-person operation, put on our roller skates, and offered curbside service to many of our faithful customers.  We also established a morning routine that included a daily Facebook Live presence and ignited our Instagram imprint with daily photos of fun and food,” Brown explains.

He’s hopeful that they will be able to return to hiring and training local youth, in the future.

In the meantime, there are a number of projects in the works and on the horizon for the folks at Nancy. They are in the midst of planning a Sweet 16 Community Party, to celebrate the pair’s 16 years in the restaurant business. It will be a free event and open to all who care to attend. Also, Kevin has just kicked off a 22-week run of a 10-minute, Tuesday morning arts and information segments on Mornings with Mykel on WEAA 88.9FM, which began at 9:50 a.m., May 11.

As founder of the National James Baldwin Literary Society, Brown is also planning a 2024 celebration of the centennial of Baldwin’s birth and hopes to have the organization establish residence in a new space. “Moving forward,” he says, “we would like to own a restaurant that offers full dinner service, holds a liquor license, and hosts events in the James Baldwin Reading Room.”

That kind of vision attracts guests who add to the restaurant’s flavor and help create the aura of home that everyone enjoys. Local artists, folks from the neighborhood, business people, politicians and friends of friends visit. Then, they come back and visit again, often bringing a new friend along to introduce them to the experience.

Brown says, “It’s always a surprise to see what individual or what incident will lighten up your day. It’s the family of friends and customers for us both.  It’s a melting pot of diverse cultures and attitudes, opinions and creative self-expression.”

Sequinta Hill, founder, Diversity Design Labs, LLC, attended Nancy’s grand opening eight years ago and comes in for her breakfast favorites, corn bread waffles, French toast, and sausage gravy and biscuits. Hill also enjoys the people and the energy, along with Bill and Kevin and their banter. She plans to be around for the long haul. “I was here for the grand opening and will always be here. There is never a shortage of new people to meet and make connections with. I’ve met some of my best friends, here,” she says.

“They are a part of why Baltimore is Beautiful and warm and Home!”