Restaurant veterans Jerry Trice and Nancy Hart opened Gunther & Co. in southeast Baltimore, where Canton meets Brewers Hill, in 2016; since then, it’s become one of Baltimore’s hottest dining destinations. Trice is the eclectic restaurant’s executive chef while Hart is the director of operations. They’re partners outside the restaurant, too: the pair got married in 2018.
How did you get in the restaurant business? How did you end up where you are today?
TRICE: I’ve been into food all my life. I was really motivated by my grandfather, who was very “country-local” when that wasn’t cool: growing his own fruit and vegetables and being an outdoorsman and hunting and fishing.
HART: I was introduced to the food world originally by seeing some incredible events. My grandmother started a career late in life where she did hand-engraved invitations and tablecloths. I saw some gorgeous events.
She passed away the summer I turned 16 and I started working at a place in Baltimore County called The Gourmet Shop. The owners were friends of my grandmother’s. I loved good food from a young age and was fussy about what I wanted to eat. That was the only place I wanted to work.
In a short time, I started working in the kitchen. The people in the kitchen with me were from San Francisco, so they had a very fresh approach to cooking – this was back in the mid-1980s. It spawned me to get interested in food.
In college, I worked at a restaurant in Harbor Place that was bought by a New York-based restaurant group and I moved to New York with them, working as a sous chef in the late ‘80s.
What inspires you as a chef/restaurant owner? How does that inspiration come alive at Gunther & Co.?
HART: My background was in the arts. Jerry also has an arts degree.
TRICE: We both have a strong background in design and I always thought that hospitality is more than just service and food. It’s also environment – that has a direct impact on how you feel. That’s something we celebrate. We don’t want people in and out. We want them to feel at home. That’s where hospitality starts for us.
HART: It’s a very tactile experience. Every chair, fork, glass – we’ve picked them up and sat in them. We really want that comfort to come through in terms of hospitality. To us, it’s all of those components. It embraces you when you walk in the door.
The restaurant’s design gets a lot of (deserved) praise. What was the inspiration behind it? What is it like to work in such a cool space?
TRICE: We really wanted the aesthetic for this restaurant to be: if it’s old, let’s keep it old and authentic, but if it’s new, make it look modern. That carried through to the end.
HART: And then function. The space is inviting, but it also functions well, so that people working here can do their jobs efficiently, which adds an ease of service and comfortability of the staff, so they can interact with their guests more easily.
The flow is right – it’s little things people don’t think about. We worked in plenty of spaces where whether Jerry was bumping his head on the hood every time if he didn’t duck under it (Chef Trice is 6’ 3”) or you were running around every time you needed a dessert spoon.
What is your favorite thing about being a chef and restaurant owner?
TRICE: It’s not the same old stuff every day. It’s always very different, no matter what.
HART: Whether it’s finding a new vendor, enjoying a new ingredient, putting something together in a different way and sharing that with the staff and public…connecting all these dots and creating something unique to us that feels genuine. Being really real. To us, that comes from the integrity of the ingredients.
TRICE: We want eaters, not people who just go through the celebratory steps of dining. It’s Baltimore. It’s about eating and food, not the right wine glass or salad fork. Baltimore people will tell you exactly what they think.
Are there are dishes that you especially love to cook or dishes that your guests are most enthusiastic about?
TRICE: On the current menu, I’ve always liked the seafood hot pot. It’s tried and true and never gets old.
HART: The seafood hot pot is unique because it has seafood, which Baltimore loves, but it also has Jerry’s spin on “global” with the Thai flavors.
TRICE: It’s panang curry and kaffir lime leaf and lots of real spice. The tea-smoked duck is another favorite, as well – a mainstay. We cold-smoke that with tea, in-house. I don’t know if we could ever change that. We’d get too much friction from regulars!
HART: Also, our steak frites. Jerry’s been honing in on that marinade. Those three dishes have been on the menu since we opened.
For Jerry, it’s about using lots of global flavors. That’s not just a “concept” – it’s about exploring ingredients and having fun with them.
TRICE: My job is just to find the pristine raw ingredient and not screw it up.
What about for kids? What dishes are most popular?
HART: We want parents to feel like they can bring their kids here. So of course we have grilled cheese! Mac and cheese, also, is a comfort food that everybody loves. Ours is more of a creamy style, which kids really like.
We also have the little steak and grilled shrimp, so parents don’t have to get an adult-sized entrée, but they can give the kids something on the healthier side.
We also sell a lot of our margherita pizza. It’s delicious and I feel very good about serving that to kids.
It’s really great to watch kids grow up in your restaurant. It hasn’t even been two years and we already have regulars we can say we knew before they could walk.
One more thing parents like to do: they can bring kids to sit at the counter. For kids who are a little older, it’s like dinner and a show. You can have a great experience as an adult and your kids are entertained, so it’s like a double whammy.
What’s next for you and your restaurant? Do you have any changes or new developments in the works?
HART: We are looking to open another restaurant on the other side of town, though it’s not final yet. We’re still growing here and still new. The patio is still taking off and hopefully we’ll have a great season for it this year (without too much rain).
TRICE: We see so many things we want to improve on here at Gunther & Co. That’s what keeps us going every day – improving and honing. From a design standpoint, taking away what’s not necessary.
We do want to do another restaurant, but not quite this big. But we always see fun stuff, whether it’s salivating over a wok oven or playing with the wood oven here or looking at certain types of fish for ceviches.
HART: We’re also planning some new promotions, including Tuesday night tasting menus with Jerry at the chef’s counter. And fried chicken Monday nights.
We’re never going to stop thinking and will always be coming up with something new based on what we like to eat and the new ingredients that become available.
Will your stroller fit? What kind of kid-friendly items are on the menu? Check out Gunther & Co.’s listing in our (cool) dining guide! Photos by Laura Black.