His Passion is Food
If you are what you eat,
how does that explain Tom O'Leary? Three generations removed from
County Cork, with dancing eyes, freckles, a ready smile and an
incredibly thick head of hair, he's as Irish as a jig. But one
of his favorite foods is sushi. Plus, the three restaurants he
owns---Chevy's near Annapolis Harbour Center, Chevy's at Arundel
Mills, and Fuzio at Arundel Mills---serve entries like crabmeat
quesa-dillas, caramelized mushroom linguine, Thai noodles and
grilled zucchini. Not a soda bread, banger, coddle, colcan-non
or shepherd's pie in sight!
O'Leary's odyssey to Annapolis began in Rhode Island. His father,
a former Navy aviator, became a United Airlines pilot after retiring
from the Navy and continued to move his family about the country.
Rhode Island was followed by Massachusetts, then a long stint
in New Jersey, before the O'Learys headed to San Diego. O'Leary
laughs when he divulges that his 1977 bachelor of arts degree
from UCLA was in English literature. It's a wonder he didn't become
a tutor at St. John's College.
O'Leary decided he loved books, but he was passionate about food.
Upon graduation, he married his San Diegan sweetheart, Jeanne,
and plunged into his first job in the restaurant business. He
managed the Los Angeles Chart House, part of a chain that eventually
built up to 100 units, including the well-regarded restaurant
in Eastport. Chart House transferred O'Leary and his new bride
to several locations around the country. With each move, O'Leary
gained additional skills in opening, operating and managing successful
restaurants. In June, 1979, O'Leary was transferred to Annapolis.
He took a look around, concluded it was a good place to begin
a family, and put his roots down. His family eventually grew to
include three children, now 18, 14 and 12 years old.
In 1981, he opened a small seafood market off Third Street in
Eastport. Within a couple of years, O'Leary's Seafood expanded
into a full service seafood restaurant. With its view of Spa Creek,
it was beloved by locals and tourists alike. Several years after
O'Leary's Seafood debuted, O'Leary founded his eponymous catering
firm, Tom O'Leary Catering. The catering business took off as
the seafood restaurant plateaued; the restaurant was sold in '87.
Tom O'Leary Catering can handle any size party and just about
any budget. Last year, the firm satisfied the wedding daydreams
of 65 brides and handled dozens of bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversary
celebrations, Sweet 16s and countless USNA tailgate parties. "We
do everything from a basket to a ballroom," O'Leary chuckles.
Every year, on Plebe Parents' Weekend, O'Leary Catering gears
up to serve more than 6,000 hot dogs and truckloads of sodas,
watermelon, potato chips and cookies to the newly-minted Plebes
and their proud parents, siblings and friends. In addition, September
and October are the firm's busiest months: it is the most popular
time of the year for Annapolis couples to pledge their troth;
the Navy stadium is one vast tailgate, and the Power and Sail
Boat Shows strut their stuff at City Dock. They all need a magical
Three years ago, O'Leary's wife noticed a familiar gleam in his
eye. He wanted to open a new restaurant. Jeanne teamed up with
JoAnn O'Leary, his beloved, younger "Irish twin" sister and his
"long-time business partner, best friend and soul mate," to dissuade
him from starting a new restaurant entirely from scratch. Together,
the three researched the possibilities. Chevy's was a fresh new
chain with a terrific concept: authentic Cal-Mex food served in
a warm, convivial family atmosphere. The O'Learys quickly built
and opened the 120th Chevy's nationwide. It was a success but,
a year later, tragedy struck. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, JoAnn
passed away on Oct. 30, 2001, at the age of 43. For O'Leary, the
loss is felt keenly in his heart and in his business.
JoAnn's death came just as O'Leary had expanded the business again.
Two O'Leary-owned restaurants opened at Arundel Mills: Chevy's
and---riding the rising tide of interest in fusion foods---Fuzio
Universal Pasta. O'Leary's Fuzio is the eighth in the country.
Both Arundel Mills restaurants have quickly become regional favorites,
drawing patrons from Baltimore and its suburbs, plus Columbia
O'Leary's love of diverse foods extends to an appreciation of
diverse cultures. His workers at Chevy's, many with Mexican or
Salvadorian heritage, have inspired him to social action on their
behalf. Last year, after a series of devastating natural disasters
in Central America, he traveled to El Salvador to help out with
Look in the kitchens of O'Leary Catering and you're likely to
find O'Leary at the stove. He loves to cook, especially "anything
chicken." When not there, he's buried in a book, skiing down a
mountain, or trying out his new 23-foot powerboat. But if it's
a party at a friend's house, the best place to find him is in
the kitchen. You are what you eat.