With its 20 signed guitars and Margaritaville-type atmosphere, the décor at Hightopps Backstage Grille in Timonium seems right out of a Hard Rock Café.
But, there's a reason for that. Turns out, owner Jimmy Bell has been catering for national bands, artists, and celebrities for the past 26 years—and, this month, will likely cater for U2 as they perform at M&T Bank Stadium.
"A lot of people can make decent meals," Bell says. "But, for me, it's more about feeling right with the band and fitting with their personality."
His catering business started in the mid-'80s when Bell worked for a restaurant called P.J. Crickets on Pratt Street, and he had a contract with Pier Six. Then, a few years later, he opened up Hightopps in its Eastern Avenue location.
"The catering company started blossoming in the early '90s when we started working for larger venues and bigger promoters," he says.
On his résumé, Bell has fed the likes of Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Toby Keith, and Elton John. Bell explains that every performer makes their food requests, and all the diva-like rumors about catering requirements simply aren't true.
"You hear the horror stories, but performers really get bad raps," he says. "There's usually no oddball requests, but we'll do anything as long as it's legal."
He says, for example, that Toby Keith usually likes seven varieties of meats and fish, while Jimmy Buffet likes home-cooked meals.
"A lot of the performers really don't like anything froufrou," he says. "Jimmy Buffet really doesn't like the cliched tropical food. And most people want to try our crab cakes since we're Baltimore-based."
In fact, when Bell was catering for a Vince Gill and Amy Grant show in Washington, D.C., former President George H. W. Bush was visiting the duo in their dressing room and tried a crab cake.
"I'm in my catering truck, and I hear a voice ask if they can have my crab cake recipe," Bell says. "I look out and there's the former president. I say, 'Of course,' and scribble it down on a napkin for him."
Eventually, Bell moved Hightopps to its Timonium location and has recently been working exclusively for Toby Keith. But, this month, Bell and his team will probably supply support to U2's tour caterer when the band comes to town.
"I just love meeting all the nice people and being with the performers," Bell says. "Music and food are my passions, so what better way to combine them?"