Bill Bateman opened his first restaurant in 1987 despite having no formal culinary training. He hoped to do $400,000 of business, but that first year the tiny 44-seat bar and grill on Harford Road in Baltimore County grossed $900,000. A year later it brought in $1.1 million.
Such was the immediate popularity of Bill Bateman’s Bistro, now a chain of 18 restaurants stretching from Edgewater, Maryland, to Hanover, Pennsylvania.
Bateman’s name has become synonymous with chicken wings, but he also has been a key spark for local economies in more ways than one.
Each Bateman’s employs an average of 50 people, and once on board, employees have ample opportunity to grow. Four former Bateman’s general managers have gone on to become franchisees.
Despite its growth, Bateman has never forgotten his roots. His restaurants remain today, as the original was 25 years ago, casual, friendly, affordable neighborhood joints. Bill continues to shape the menu. All sauces are made from scratch; nothing is frozen or prepackaged. Only fresh ground beef is used for its burgers. The soups and chili are homemade.
Eye-popping specials like Tuesdays’ $12.99 for a pound of shrimp or rack of ribs, and the ever-popular $10 half-pound crab cake with French fries and cole slaw on Wednesdays keep smiling customers coming through the doors week after week.
Then, of course, there are the wings. Bateman’s customers gobble up 80,000 of them each month. On Mondays $9.99 gets you all-you-can-eat of any of the 16 flavors.
“The customers are the ones that made me,” Bateman says. “It’s a great honor that people still come in, recognize you, say hello. To be able to earn that trust…I love them.”
In a world of big box stores and faceless, bland chain restaurants, Bateman’s has been able to grow organically. Walk into any one and you’ll find regulars chatting with bartenders, servers, and hosts—everyone using first names. It’s that genuine character that has allowed the restaurants to thrive, and will make for a unique story your readers will relate to.
“You tell your help, doesn’t matter who walks in, what they have, how much they tip, treat them like they’re the number-one person in the restaurant,” Bateman says.