Dawn Knox was 13 and Donna Demmon was 10 when they began working at Fitzgerald’s Shamrock, their father’s restaurant in Thurmont. After more than 56 years, the sisters have decided to retire and close the restaurant, a beloved staple in town.
The restaurant’s last day of business will be Dec. 30. Employees were told on Sunday night.
The owners, who took over the family business in 2016, announced the news to their customers in a short bulletin left on tables and in Thanksgiving pie orders, the top of which read “Go raibh cead mile maith agaibh,” translating to “a hundred thousand thanks to you” in Gaelic.
After spending so long in the restaurant business, the family is looking forward to some rest and relaxation. Demmon and her husband, TJ, recently celebrated their 70th birthdays.
“Not to make them feel over the hill, but to help everyone understand, it’s time to change our pace,” they wrote in the announcement. “It’s time to enjoy each other, take in some new vistas, let someone else set the table, take the order, cook the food and clean up the mess.”
The land, which is owned by the family, is for sale.
“It’ll be an immense loss for our community. It’s hard to believe they’re actually going to close,” Mayor John Kinnaird said. “The Shamrock is definitely a landmark restaurant in Frederick County.”
Demmon remembers meeting her husband at the Shamrock in 1972. He was a Marine stationed at Camp David and would come in sometimes to sit at the bar and have a drink. After a couple of visits, the pair got to talking. They’ve been together ever since.
She also has many memories of sitting and working with her father, Mike Fitzgerald. She returned home to Thurmont after graduating from college in 1971 to help him run the restaurant, and ended up staying.
“We would spend a lot of time talking and figuring things out, things he wanted to change and then I would follow through with them,” Demmon said. “I was a very lucky girl to be able to do that.”
The restaurant opened in 1963, when Mike and Doris Fitzgerald bought the abandoned and neglected restaurant. Mike’s mother, Naomi, moved to Thurmont to become the restaurant’s first cook. She developed the recipes for the crab soup and crabcakes that the restaurant still makes today, according to Issue 5 of Vol. 41 of the Shamrock Shenanigans newsletter.
Mike Fitzgerald, in addition to owning and running the restaurant, made many strides for Thurmont and Frederick County. He was the charter president of the Thurmont Tourism Council and helped start Colorfest, which was originally a festival dedicated to fall foliage and nature walks. He also served in several other roles at multiple organizations, many of which were volunteer-run.
Knox and Demmon are two of nine siblings who all worked at the restaurant at some point.
The Shamrock plays a large part in Thurmont’s history. It was the first restaurant in Frederick County to obtain a liquor license that allowed cocktails. The restaurant had live music and dancing every Friday and Saturday night. A pianist named Potsy would play a lime-green upright piano, and oftentimes local combos would play shows.
The last music performance at Shamrock’s will be on Thursday, Dec. 19, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Rocky Birely will play the saxophone.
Knox said that she will miss interacting with the people she got to see every day.
“This is our hometown,” she said.
“I just got a hug from someone who has been coming here since 1964 as a very young lady. She was a ballerina in Germany, and she came to give me a hug because we’re not going to be able to anymore,” she said. “These people, these customers are a very big part of it, and that’s going to rip at the heart.’”
The pair will also miss their more than 35 employees, most of whom have been employed at the restaurant for between 10 and 30 years.
“I’ve seen people who worked many decades ago, and they bring me their children and ask that I give them a job also,” Demmon said. “We’ve had several generations of people work here, bring me their daughter or son, and then they bring me a daughter or son.”
The restaurant will remain open through Dec. 30. It is closed on Tuesdays.
“For a long time, I’m going to miss it every day,” Demmon said. “And this departure hurts very much, but it’s something I have to do.”