The kind of banter that unfolds inside these scrub-green walls plays out at rec centers, lunch counters, and bars across this country. But what makes this gathering place distinctive is the guy who's usually leaning on the counter. He's the only regular at the Clifton Park Snack Bar on the clock, and his name is Norm Schultz. The silver-haired Schultz, 67, may lack the golf-course tan of his compadres, but his score usually falls around 80--making him one of the more consistent of the bunch.
Schultz is the guy that runs the restaurant. He buys the food, sets the place up, and, perhaps most importantly, is the one who makes the special condiment known simply as "Norm Sauce."
While he won't reveal all the ingredients, Schultz says Norm Sauce is made using a combination of what can be found at any well-stocked concession stand: ketchup, onions, relish, hot peppers, etc. The result is a relish that's spicy in a raw-onion sort of way, rather than the jalapeño way. For the last 15 years, the guys around this Northeast Baltimore golf course have been putting Norm Sauce on their hot dogs, hamburgers, crab cakes, and the soft-shelled crabs that Schultz handpicks from an Eastern Shore dealer.
It's become such a popular condiment that Schultz has to have it handy to keep his clientele happy. "If he doesn't have Norm Sauce, he doesn't sell anything," says Russell Bateman, director of maintenance for the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp., which runs all the city-owned courses, including Clifton Park.
Schultz is quietly proud of his eatery on the links. He could easily just sling standard snack-bar grub: hamburgers, hot dogs, and chips. Instead, he offers a culinary preservation platter of an old-style Maryland diet; eggs and scrapple, fried oyster sandwiches, steamed shrimp, homemade Maryland crab soup, and Western fries (the precursor to Boardwalk fries) are menu staples. Even his latest addition, a hamburger Reuben, draws from a time when grease was a flavor, not a feared fat.
"I'll be honest with you," he says, plowing his way through an Italian sub. "You won't find any of these items in any golf course [menu]."
Schultz often finds himself surrounded by retirees who golf in groups with monikers like the Gas House Gang or the Slam Bang Gang. And he seems at ease with these, his regular customers.
Bob Pruitt, a Bethlehem Steel retiree who comes by often, plays the role of class clown at the restaurant. "We have a few in this group that are grouches, but by the time I go 18 holes with them, they come off the course laughing," he says. Pruitt, who along with his fellow Beth Steel retirees, recently lost his company-paid health insurance when the company filed for bankruptcy, says golf plays a big part in the lives of this bunch of guys with a lot of free time. Instead of sitting at home thinking about old age, they get together to talk and play golf.
Pruitt points out a memorial plaque across the room, dedicated to Clifton Park's late golf pro Joe Vaeth. "There are three spots left," he says. "And nobody wants those three spots!"
There was a time when Schultz was as into golf as his customers. He was an avid golfer in the 1950s and '60s, and was even head of the Clifton Park Golfers Association for a time. Schultz loved the golf course life so much that, even though he worked as a plumber, he was intrigued when he heard that the old man running the Clifton Park Snack Bar was calling it quits. In 1982, he asked Vaeth about it. "He said, 'It's yours,'" Schultz recalls.
He figured the eatery would be a weekend project. "I never imagined it ending up being a full-time profession," he says.
Schultz decided to make all his own food, from the soups and sandwiches to the chili. In the mid-'80s, he concocted his Norm Sauce, not expecting a big reaction, but people started asking for tubs to take home. The hot dog shack out on Clifton Park's links found that it moved more dogs if they were accompanied by Norm Sauce. (A restaurant supplier once suggested that Schultz mass produce the sauce, but he was wary of dishing out the startup money.)
Before long, Schultz found that his snack bar was busy at dinnertime, and that people were even ordering takeout meals to bring home for their families. The menu expanded, and so did the business. Schultz's restaurant became so popular with golf course regulars that he no longer had the time to go out with his regular foursome for 18 holes.
But every two weeks or so, Schultz still tries to hit the links. He throws his clubs in the back of a cart and joins up with his friends. On a recent, beautiful Wednesday afternoon, Schultz whizzed up in a golf cart to join three of his old pals for a game.
"Norm comes out and beats the shit out of us about once a month," said one of the guys.
"Goddamn sandbagger," piped up another.
Divided Royalties (6/9/2010)
SoundExchange seeks out artists to give them money earned from digital transmissions
Horse Sense (2/11/2009)
Baltimore City and B&O Railroad Museum Team Up to Construct a New Stable For Displaced Arabbers
Feeling Blue (1/21/2009)
Some People Are Born Freaks. Jim Hall Turned Himself Into One.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201