Ravens' R. Lewis launches barbecue restaurant

BALTIMORE -- Between the lifesized photo montage of Ray Lewis' trademark dance and spicy barbecue sauce that embodies his intense nature, the hard-hitting Baltimore Ravens linebacker is omnipresent at his new restaurant.<br><br> Lewis, 29, became the latest sports celebrity to attach his name to a business venture with the impending launch of Ray Lewis' Full Moon Bar-B-Que in downtown Baltimore.

Unlike other projects where the namesake traditionally has a minor business role, Lewis is a majority owner in this southern-style barbecue restaurant that features a hickory open wood fire pit and flatscreen televisions at virtually every table.

The menu offers traditional southern favorites such as barbecue pork ribs, beef brisket and farm-raised catfish with the most expensive entree a $24.99 filet mignon.

Located in The Can Company on Boston Street in Canton, the restaurant officially opens Sunday to the public.

"Honestly, it was a dream come true," Lewis said Wednesday at a press conference. "Of course, football is the foundation. This was an opportunity it created for me. It's always been a childhood dream of mine.

"This is my business, and this is not something where I just put my name on something. I've had many opportunities to do that, and it just never sat right. If I'm not hands-on, I don't do it."

The Full Moon brand was born in Birmingham, Ala., where barbecue is known as a second religion. Lewis' involvement is the chain's first national expansion with franchises planned for Nashville, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington.

Lewis' partners, David and Joseph Maluff, have already approached former Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan about attaching his name to a Full Moon.

The Baltimore location is expected to bring in between $4 million and $5 million in sales during the first year, including food, liquor and merchandising, according to David Maluff.

"An athlete of Ray Lewis' caliber will create hype among tourists and locals," David Maluff said, "but we also know the food will sell."

Dressed in a silver three-piece suit, Lewis was joined by his mother in pitching his first business.

Even the entrance of the 6,200-square foot restaurant that seats up to 215 people has Lewis' imprint. His jersey numbers, '5' and '2,' are the door handles.

The restaurant offers takeout, catering and a full-service bar. Currently, it doesn't take reservations.

"It doesn't matter if it's 30 inches of snow outside, if a football game is on, barbecue is the thing to do," Lewis said.

Full Moon also sports a diverse dessert menu that includes Key lime pie, coconut pie, chocolate pie, carrot cake, Hershey cake and half-moon cookies, chocolate chip cookies dipped in chocolate.

Lewis' mother may even lend her sweet potato pie recipe to the menu.

"The food is better than mine," said Sunseria Smith, Lewis' mother. "It's a blessing because that means I won't have to cook family meals anymore."

Lewis got to know the Full Moon brand by testing it out when the Maluffs began catering his charity events three years ago. Barbecue has always been one of the Lakeland, Fla. native's favorite dining experiences.

"This is another opportunity to venture out and help somebody, to show people that there is hope, there is love in Baltimore," Lewis said. "It's definitely not a sports bar. It's more of a family-oriented place that will give you a totally different vibe."

Lewis is following in the footsteps of previous Baltimore sports luminaries that have owned and operated restaurants locally. Former Baltimore Colts Johnny Unitas, Gino Marchetti and Alan Ameche are among that group, some of whom met with mixed success.

"When you go into business, they say, ‘Why would you do this restaurant? It's risky,'" Lewis said. " I truly believe that with the foundation the Maluffs have already established in Alabama, and the things they have going, I saw this as a win-win situation all the way around."

A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Lewis hopes to be involved in future business opportunities, including opening a chain of 24-hour fitness centers in the region.
"This is the beginning of a long legacy of things I truly wanted to bump into," Lewis said. "You look at Magic Johnson, all those people, they had to start somewhere. I could not be happier."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and Ravens Insider.

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