Gavin Buckley & Jody Danek
Feb 01, 2018 09:00AM
Photo by Tony Lewis Jr.
By Jennifer Ginn and James Houck
Before they started building their burgeoning restaurant businesses on Inner West Street, Gavin Buckley and Jody Danek were regulars in the area. In fact—it’s where they became friends. Danek, who grew up in Crofton, says he practically spent his entire career on the same block of West Street close to the duo’s current joint ventures Tsunami, Metropolitan, Lemongrass, and Sailor Oyster Bar. While Danek was working as a server at Truffles (where El Toro Bravo presently resides), he met Buckley, who was dining, and the two became fast friends. Buckley had arrived in Annapolis after backpacking around the world. Danek had been globe trekking as well.
With their shared zest for travel, Buckley and Danek and a few other friends traveled to Australia, Buckley returning to the country of his childhood. During their time overseas, they talked about opening a café together. “That’s how the dream started. We began saving our money, and lived in some awful apartments,” Danek says with a laugh.
Then the lease next door to Rams Head, which was Chow, opened up and the dream was realized. “It had been closed down for about a year and a half and was on a block where people thought twice about parking their cars,” Buckley says. “Crime was high at that time, the rent was cheap, and we took a gamble.”
Tsunami was their first joint venture. “We wanted to do something different. Being bartenders and servers, we had a late-night mentality. Tsunami is where people go at 1 a.m. after work—it’s an industry place to go,” Danek shares. “Previously this was an area where drug dealers and hookers worked. And then we brought economic vitality to it.”
“We like to bring new things to town and take risks,” Danek continues. “And we invest in people. We have been known to give percentages of our businesses to hard-working employees. People make your business. We are not there at four in the morning anymore and when you have six businesses, you can’t be at each one of them. You have to invest in people.”
In addition to extending eating and imbibing offerings up West Street, Buckley and Danek have also greatly enhanced the arts scene. The two were instrumental in launching the First Sunday Arts Festival, Dining Under the Stars, the Fringe Festival, and The Chocolate Binge Festival.
“We made a town center on Inner West Street. Now people are walking up and down the streets at night,” Buckley says. Another element the two helped bring to town are the strands and strands of lights artfully strewn across West Street. The eventual aim is to bring the lights from circle to circle stretching to Fado.
Always striving to push boundaries just a little further, along with the Annapolis Arts District and the Inner West Street Association, the duo helped organize the Annapolis Color Run this past August. The run benefitted the Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County but more importantly took place off the usual path. It started at the Loews Annapolis Hotel behind Bates, went down the Poplar Trail and Taylor Avenue and ended on Clay Street. “We had over 500 people run a race that helped us to realize we are all neighbors,” Buckley says, adding that it helped destigmatize Clay Street.
The race attracted participants ranging from politicians to the police chief. “We are focused on bringing communities together,” Danek says. “And doing what’s right for our neighborhoods.”
The two describe themselves as change agents for Annapolis and their vision is ever expanding. “We believe this town can have a great arts district, be a historic town, and be a sailing town,” Buckley says encouragingly. “We believe you can be a lot of things at one time.”
Clearly the people of Annapolis also share this vision as they elected Buckley mayor of Annapolis in November, just as his business partner Danek predicted.