Sekula celebrating Hagerstown restaurant's 20th anniversary, birthday together

May 12, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - In the last two decades, a lot of businesses have come and gone in downtown Hagerstown.

But one of the few constants has been the Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant.

It was 20 years ago in April that owner Charles Sekula, a German immigrant, opened the restaurant at the corner of Antietam and South Potomac streets. On Friday, he will celebrate the milestone -- in conjunction with his 63rd birthday -- among family and friends during a private ceremony. The outdoor festivities will be held downtown at University Plaza.

"There wasn't one person who thought I would have succeeded for three months," Sekula said. "Every penny I earned went into this place ... I had a vision and a goal. If one has these ingredients, that's all you need."

Sekula had a rough time trying to get "The Stube" off the ground, he said. Banks wouldn't give him credit because he had no experience in the restaurant business and buildings on the block, including the one that houses the Stube, were run down.


"The building was on one of the worst corners in Hagerstown," he said. "The whole block was considered a dilapidated area."

Eventually, Sekula said, he was able to land low-interest loans and used the money to pay the renovation costs. It took almost a year to redo the interior, and reroute the piping and electricity, he said.

"We had to do extensive construction," Sekula said. "We tore out the bottom floor, tore the building down to bare walls and took a section out of the front."

Between chasing off drug dealers -- who hid under trees in a courtyard behind the building -- and working 110 hours a week, Sekula said he was able to get a decent customer base. To this day, a majority of The Stube's patrons come from within a 150-mile radius, he said. On numerous occasions, customers have told Sekula that they heard about The Stube from places as far away as Lithuania.

"Five different people told a customer from California that he should eat at the Schmankerl Stube," Sekula said. "That's what you want to hear."

Sekula said business is steady all year long. He attributed The Stube's success, in part, to its uniqueness.

The restaurant serves Bavarian cuisine and offers rare beers, he said. Desserts are made in-house, and The Stube needs a 24-hour notice to prepare certain dishes.

Sekula credited the restaurant's staff for helping The Stube succeed.

Diana Collins, The Stube's sou- chef, has been there since the beginning, and manager Krista Dunahugh started 19 years ago, Sekula said. About nine years ago, he hired chef Dieter Blosel, who received his culinary training in Lindau, Germany.

"They've been great," Sekula said. "They've been a big part of this restaurant."

Sekula said he was born in Munich and came to the United States in 1967. Shortly after his arrival, he landed a blue-collar job in the Midwest and later moved to Martinsburg, W.Va. In 1970, Sekula said, he moved to Hagerstown, where he worked at Mack Trucks for several years.

When the company announced it was about to lay off workers, Sekula said he could "see the writing on the wall." It was then that he decided to open a restaurant. A lot of hard work and 20 years later, The Stube is going strong.

"I found out very quickly that this is the greatest country in the world ... Where you can pursue your dreams and happiness," Sekula said. "It's tremendous to see people enjoy what I've created. That's a reward in itself."

What it means

According to the Schmankerl Stube's Web site at, "Schmankerl" means a Bavarian culinary delicacy and "Stube" means a cozy room.

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