By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO

The impact of the COVID-19 shutdown has been devastating for many small businesses, especially restaurants, which by Gov. Hogan’s order are only allowed to provide carryout and curbside delivery service, effective March 16. Feeling the brunt of those restrictions, Kevin Brown and William Maughlin, owners of the popular Baltimore eatery and gathering place, Nancy by SNAC, are working tirelessly to continue serving up their unique brand of good food and good will, while adhering to the new rules.

Located on the first floor of Maryland Institute College of Arts’ Fred Lazarus IV Center for Graduate Studies, Nancy has become a go-to spot in the Station North Arts District, in its nearly seven years there. As well-liked for its warm and welcoming atmosphere as it is for Chef Bill’s eagerly-anticipated Tuesday shrimp salad and Friday pulled pork with coleslaw specials, one almost expects to see “hugs” on Nancy’s menu.

Nancy by SNAC owners Kevin Brown and William “Chef Bill” Maughlin say they miss the fellowship with their customers. (Courtesy Photo)

Recognizing that ambiance is a huge part of Nancy’s appeal, Brown says, “The community has really made the business. I always tell people, ‘Honey, you can get an egg sandwich anywhere. You can stay home and make your own egg sandwich.’ But people love the camaraderie and the companionship, and the connectivity they get when they come, and I enjoy it too.” 

In order to combat the challenge of “staying together apart,” Brown has turned to increasing the restaurant’s presence on social media. He shares the couple’s morning ride to work, belts out excerpts of Broadway showtunes, gives a shout-out to customers who come through, and engages followers in discussions about a variety of topics throughout the day on Facebook Live. It serves as an excellent way to reach his customers and maintain their connection.

“We are face-to-face business, and our face is our brand. That’s a new branding approach, because we had to actually catch people’s attention using another brand strategy,” he explains. “You know. Using social media… People are forced to stay at home, but they’ve got Facebook and Instagram…”

Wanda Watts can’t resist the delicious food, so she picks up a curbside order. (Courtesy Photo)

Although the situation is not ideal (Business is down 80 percent, and they’ve had to let their two longtime employees go), Brown says that the outpouring of support they’ve received from customers has been heartwarming. Patrons have ordered carry-out and curbside, bought gift cards, made direct donations and volunteered behind the scenes. 

According to Brown, like many other small businesses, Nancy was shut out of the Paycheck Protection Program loan process but has applied for Economic Injury Disaster Loan. In the meantime, he is focused on building a sustainable business model. The business was not built for carry-out, but by tweaking the model, they are making it work. After a very successful Saturday opening, they have expanded their Monday – Friday (8 a.m. – 2 p.m.) hours of operation to include Saturdays (9 a.m. – 1 p.m.)

Brown is looking forward to enjoying the experience of spending time in the company of his customers, once again and reflects, “It’s really been a cultural canopy that the community helped us build. They’ve helped us put that tent up, which I call the cultural canopy, every day. It’s professional people, politicians, artists, professors, academics, Keisha from round the way, Man-Man… You know, it’s everybody. Black and White, young and old, gay and straight,” Brown said. “It’s intergenerational. And that’s not by design. I think it happened organically. And that’s why I think people get that vibe when they come in the door, because the energy barrier is authentic.”

Nancy by SNAC
131 W. North Avenue, 21201
Carry-out & Curbside
Telephone Orders: (410) 685-0039
Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Saturday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.