Sunday, July 8, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The morning rush comes to a halt at the bustling Chick and Ruth’s Delly on Main Street each day when owner Ted Levitt picks up a microphone and takes his place behind the cash register and below the American flag.

Patrons and workers in the tightly packed eatery remove their hats, place their hands over their hearts and take part in a ritual that most left behind in grade school: They recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Every morning since 1988 — at 8:30 a.m. on weekdays and 9:30 a.m. on weekends — Mr. Levitt has led his employees and customers in the Pledge. He says it is an act of defiance against people who disrespect the flag.

“So many people say that they can burn the flag and they can hate the country, this and that,” Mr. Levitt said. “Well, they can talk negative about it, and we have a right to do what we want. I think your right should be used for something proper and doing the right thing.”

Mr. Levitt started the tradition the morning after his children’s school in Baltimore County reinstated the Pledge recital.

Tom Hall, a cook at the restaurant for close to 20 years, said it is the only job he has ever worked where people recite the Pledge each morning.

“It’s a natural feel, as far I’m concerned,” Mr. Hall said.

For many diners, the Pledge is something they haven’t said aloud in years.

“This whole thing is very unique,” Frank Davis said, shortly before a waitress delivered a plate of eggs. Mr. Davis said he has recited the Pledge at Chick and Ruth’s about a half-dozen times.

Mr. Levitt has owned the restaurant, open since 1965, since his father, Charles “Chick” Levitt, signed over the ownership to him in 1980.

Chick and Ruth’s is widely known for its sandwiches named after Maryland lawmakers — the Gov. “Martin O’Malley” is a roast beef sandwich, the “Speaker of the House Mike Busch” is a shrimp salad sandwich and the “Comptroller Peter (Watch Dog) Franchot” is a hot dog with onion and mustard. It’s also a regular haunt for the state’s top officeholders.

Mr. O’Malley stopped in for breakfast shortly after the Pledge was recited Friday.

On the cover of the menu is a photo taken on Flag Day last year of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. reciting the Pledge with former Govs. William Donald Schaefer and Marvin Mandel.

Mr. Levitt said he feels that reciting the Pledge is a matter of respect in the same vein as walking into a church or synagogue, and that most diners recite the Pledge. He said even foreign tourists who may not know the words stand and place their hands over their hearts.

Local tourists Jim and Gwen Schuler hung around long enough to recite the Pledge before sailing back across the Chesapeake Bay to Rock Hall.

“It kind of reinforces what the country means, what we all are and it brings people together,” Mrs. Schuler said. “It’s special.”

Mr. Levitt said he has seen diners of all ages recite the Pledge, but that he is most heartened by the younger generation.

“You got teenagers and kids in their young 20s coming and up and saying, ‘You know what, I haven’t done that since I was in elementary school,’ ” Mr. Levitt said. “When you have the younger generation tell you that, it makes you feel real good.”

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