Nancy by SNAC: Food, fun and family feeling
By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special at 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 for good food at a reasonable price, served by friendly hosts in a cheerful atmosphere, with a generous touch of daily shenanigans, wrapped in a warm welcome that many guests describe as simply “at home”.
Chef Bill says venturing into restaurant business was a natural extension of his childhood. “My interest has always been food. I have always worked in the restaurant business, most of my life. I worked alongside my mom as a teenager and grew up in York Haven, PA and performed almost every kitchen job I could!
His prowess in the kitchen shines in everything he prepares, from the property’s all-day breakfast offerings to his popular lunch specials, and draws followers from all over Baltimore and beyond.
“We serve breakfast all day. So a lot of people are grateful for that, especially students, artists, and people who don’t get up early, ”Brown says. “Favorites include the Hot Cornbread Waffles, the North Carolina Pulled Pork BBQ topped with Coleslaw, and of course Chef Bill’s delicious Jumbo Shrimp Salad Sandwich. Our homemade lemon ginger iced tea, with fresh mint and lemon wedges, is very popular. “
Larry Simmons, who previously lived in the area and is the director of community engagement for the No One Asked Me campaign (https://www.nobodyaskedmebmore.org/), says he’s been dating Nancy for about two years. He was drawn to the family atmosphere of the restaurant and quickly established a fondness for breakfast and Chef Bill’s highly acclaimed shrimp salad as his favorite.
Moving away did not stop his patronage. “I used to live in the area, but now I live in Edmondson Village. I’m here about once or twice a month. Not every week but often enough to have a favorite and know what’s good… and often enough to want to bring my mom.
As she enjoyed her breakfast of eggs on a bagel and homemade fries, her mother, Karen Outlaw, expressed her delight with the meal and its surroundings. The Woodlawn resident echoed her son’s approval for the atmosphere and noted that she particularly enjoyed “the look and feel of Nancy’s living room.”
According to Brown, the look and feel of Nancy is by design. Before opening Nancy, the couple owned and operated the Station North Arts Café Gallery (SNAC) where they say they created a “Mama’s Kitchen and Auntie’s Parlor” vibe. “What I wanted for Nancy by SNAC was not so much an attachment to the brand but an extension of what we were becoming in the community. Our family of friends and clients come from all walks of life, and it was important to organize a public art and restoration experience where the art objects and food engage the senses and encourage interactions between guests ”, he explains.
While Chef Bill masters the cuisine, Kevin “Downtown” Brown applies all of his personality and previous experience in the theater arts, journalism and communications, as a leader, moving, creating an atmosphere of welcome and well-being. His personality as someone who has never met a stranger works like a magnet when it comes to engaging with his guests.
Anelda Peters, a resident of the Station North Arts District for over 20 years, says Kevin and Bill were among the first people she met when she moved to the area. She has been dating Nancy since it opened and was a familiar face at SNAC, along with her late husband, Roy Crosse, a visual and stage artist who sometimes performed there with his band and ran the WestNorth Studio. She says she was immediately won over by the welcoming aura of the space, which makes it possible to engage in conversations with others or to sit alone to soak up everything.
Peters’ favorite offering is the Egg and Bacon on Rye Breakfast Sandwich, but she stays on the lookout for lunch specials, especially Chef Bill’s Jumbo Shrimp Salad Sandwich. She usually stops by at least once a week for breakfast, but she often supplies fresh mint from her garden for their popular lemon-ginger mint tea. Sometimes she stops to take a look at the works of art on display and the layout of the furniture, both of which change quite frequently,
“Every day, when you walk in, the space has been rearranged. You never know what it’s going to look like, so it always looks like a surprise. It’s so refreshing, ”she exclaims!
The interesting assortment of people who frequent Nancy also adds to the experience. You never know who you might fall into. Former Baltimore city councilor Carl Stokes has been there from the start. SNAC opened during his time as a District Councilor, and he quickly became a regular, who followed them to their new lair when Nancy opened.
“Now I go there about once a week. Before the pandemic, I went there, maybe two, three times a week and often had breakfast and lunch there, ”says Stokes, who also placed orders over the phone for curbside pickup.
Stokes has a host of reasons for their support, ranging from great food made with fresh ingredients to eclectic clientele. Regarding his favorite foods, he says, “For breakfast I’m a real Baltimorian, and I love going for scrambled eggs and ripping up. At lunchtime, I like their chicken salad or shrimp salad, on a multigrain toast. In general, I like a good piece of pound cake or cornbread, which is just as sweet as the cake. “
He says watching Kevin and Bill interact with their “guests” and then play with them and each other makes the meal even more enjoyable. It’s a fun and positive experience, offered by people he sees as true community partners, who, before the pandemic, were also able to provide jobs and training for several young people.
Although Nancy has remained open for business throughout the pandemic, some unfortunate changes have been necessary for this to happen. “We reduced the staff to our initial operation by two people, put on our roller skates and offered curbside service to many of our loyal customers. We also established a morning routine that included a daily presence on Facebook Live and ignited our Instagram footprint with daily photos of fun and food, ”says Brown.
He hopes they can resume hiring and training local youth in the future.
In the meantime, there are a number of projects going on and on the horizon for the people of Nancy. They are planning a Sweet 16 community party to celebrate the couple’s 16 years in the restaurant business. It will be a free event and open to anyone who wishes to attend. Additionally, Kevin just kicked off a 22-week 10-minute art and news segment series Tuesday morning on Mornings with Mykel on WEAA 88.9FM, which began at 9:50 a.m. on May 11.
As the founder of the National James Baldwin Literary Society, Brown is also planning a celebration of the centenary of Baldwin’s birth in 2024 and hopes the organization will establish itself in a new space. “Moving forward,” he says, “we would like to own a restaurant that offers full dinner service, is licensed and hosts events in the James Baldwin Reading Room.”
This type of vision attracts customers who add to the flavor of the restaurant and help create the aura of the house that everyone enjoys. Local artists, locals, businessmen, politicians and friends of friends visit. Then they come back and visit again, often bringing a new friend to introduce them to the experience.
Brown says, “It’s always a surprise to see which individual or incident will light up your day. It’s family of friends and customers for both of us. It is a melting pot of diverse cultures and attitudes, opinions and creative expression. “
Sequinta Hill, founder of Diversity Design Labs, LLC, attended Nancy’s grand opening eight years ago and comes for her favorite breakfasts, cornbread waffles, French toast, sausage sauce and biscuits. Hill also likes people and energy, as well as Bill and Kevin and their jokes. She plans to be there for the long haul. “I was here for the grand opening and I will always be there. There is never a shortage of new people to meet and bond with. I have met some of my best friends here, ”she says.
“They are part of the reason Baltimore is beautiful and warm and home!”