If you live in Baltimore, you’ve probably heard by now that Donna’s in Cross Keys closed on Dec. 9, 2018, after 19 years at that location. Donna’s co-owner Alan Hirsch stopped by Jmore’s Facebook Live studio on Dec. 13 to share some memories of the iconic Baltimore eatery with “This Week in Baltimore Eating” host Richard Gorelick and announce his next project.
Gorelick introduced Hirsch by reminding his viewers how innovative and revolutionary the Donna’s empire was for Baltimore’s dining scene when it was established in 1992. “The idea of dipping good bread in olive oil was a new thing,” Gorelick said.
“We were the first people to do that in Baltimore,” Hirsch said, adding that the local restaurant group had earned the nickname of “McDonna’s” by 1995 because of how prevalent it became across the city, including locations within the bookstore chain Bibelot, as well as in Mount Vernon and Charles Village. Gorelick also reminded Hirsch that they were the first to put outdoor seating on the sidewalk in Mount Vernon.
“Restaurants play a really important role in the development of a neighborhood,” Hirsch said. “It was very satisfying to help the neighborhood thrive.”
On the restaurant’s last weekend, Hirsch said, “We weren’t prepared for the outpouring of love and support. …[It] was like running a shiva.”
During the show, Hirsch took a break from all the nostalgia to look forward and announce his next project. “I am taking over management of Palio at Foundry Row and we’ve brought Chef Ian Stanford [formerly of Donna’s],” Hirsch said. “I couldn’t be more excited about it. My job is to make a better restaurant.” The restaurant focuses on Italian comfort food with pasta and pizzas, but also might incorporate some dishes from Donna’s, according to Hirsch.
The restaurateur assured listeners that several Donna’s employees were going with him to Palio or had already been placed in other jobs in Baltimore restaurants. As for the Donna of the restaurant’s name, Donna Crivello is currently the executive chef at Cosima.
“We’re both still really excited and engaged about being in the restaurant business,” Hirsch said, adding that Crivello had opened his eyes to a lot of things that eventually became Donna’s staples like artichokes and roasted potatoes instead of potato chips.
“She was right,” Hirsch said.
Watch the entire video here: