Transcripts

The Golden Era Of D.C. Dining, Or An Age Of Terror?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and wow, what a week, huh? Last Friday's derecho certainly turned our region upside down. We had fallen trees, we had power outages and all sorts of traffic both inside and outside the Beltway. It's a whole lot of stress for a whole lot of people, people who are seeking peace, people who are seeking air conditioning and above all people who are seeking comfort. That's why this week we're bringing you a hearty helping of comfort and a delicious one at that. Chock full of flavors that will sooth anyone's soul.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:42
It's our annual Down The Hatch show where we present an hour of stories and interviews all about eating and drinking in the D.C. region. We'll go inside the world of ramen and hear why that Cup O'Noodles that sells for less than a buck is suddenly getting the gourmet treatment. We'll check out big changes at a suburban ice-cream stand that's become a cold and creamy community institution and we'll learn why it isn't always easy for local breweries to deliver ice cold beer to their customers.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:11
First, though, when it comes to the dining world, restaurants come and restaurants go. But since Memorial Day, we've seen nearly 20 eateries shut their doors in the D.C. region, Capitol Q Barbeque, Buddha Bar, Casa Nonna, Restaurant 3, Meatballs, Ireland's Four Fields, I mean the list goes on and on and on. Some of them plan on relocating, others plan on re-opening with a new concept, but others are simply saying so long and thanks for all the fish, or the barbeque or the meatballs. Or...

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:01:42
So here we are on Wisconsin Avenue, in the case of one long-time institution in Northwest D.C.'s Tenleytown area, all the deep-dish pizza. And there's a sign in front of Armand's pizza that says Tenleytown closing June 30. Thank you, friends, for 37 years. Let's go inside. Armand's Chicago Pizzeria has several other locations in Maryland and Virginia and they'll remain open, but co-owner Ron Newmeyer. Hi, I'm Rebecca.

MR. RON NEWMEYER

00:02:13
How are you? Nice to meet you.

SHEIR

00:02:13
Nice to meet you, too. Says it's time for the flagship location to call it a day. Not only has the rent shot up since 1975...

NEWMEYER

00:02:21
The rent is almost $12,000 a month and looking like it's going to go up even well beyond that.

SHEIR

00:02:26
...but business has slowed down.

NEWMEYER

00:02:28
Tenleytown used to be kind of thriving bar scene actually. There was night clubs and live music and we stayed open until 2:00 a.m.. Friday and Saturday and midnight Sunday to Thursday. But it's a completely different scene now. So the writing was on the wall. We've been losing money so we just figured we would stop now.

SHEIR

00:02:45
Another restaurant that's decided to stop now.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:02:47
Hello.

SHEIR

00:02:48
Or stop a week ago to be more precise...

#1

00:02:50
I think we're ready to order, yeah.

SHEIR

00:02:52
...is Zola.

#1

00:02:53
Can I get the Zola? And then I think we're going to split the anchovies and the avocado mousse.

SHEIR

00:03:00
And I will have the Zola sangria. The day before the decade old Penn Quarter eatery shut its doors, I paid a visit with Jessica Sidman. She's been covering the rash of restaurant shutterings as food editor for the Washington City Paper.

MS. JESSICA SIDMAN

00:03:11
Restaurateurs tend to be very sensitive about closings. And there are very few people who are gonna be absolutely upfront with you. But I talked to one of the managers at Zola and they told me that the reason they were closing was because the owner, who actually owns the Spy Museum next door, didn't want to be in the food and wine business any more.

SHEIR

00:03:34
And that business is tough and here in D.C., Sidman says, it's getting even tougher.

SIDMAN

00:03:39
D.C. is an increasingly popular place to do business. And as a result, real estate is expensive and because the restaurant scene has exploded and you have so many new restaurants, it's not good enough to just be good anymore.

SHEIR

00:03:56
In short, she says, if you're a new restaurant owner in D.C….

SIDMAN

00:03:59
If you make it a year, that is an achievement.

SHEIR

00:04:03
And if you make it two years, says restaurateur Constantine Stavropoulous...

MR. CONSTANTINE STAVROPOULOUS

00:04:06
That's like a miracle. If you get to five, you're an institution. And we've been blessed and lucky that we've got going on almost 14 years now with Tryst.

SHEIR

00:04:14
Indeed, Stavropoulous is the driving force between Tryst in Adams Morgan and at the Phillips Collection. He also owns The Diner in Adams Morgan and Open City in Woodley Park. He's currently building a new restaurant here at 11th and Monroe Street in Columbia Heights. When might opening be?

STAVROPOULOUS

00:04:28
Hopefully, end of the summer. I've even invented a few months. I keep saying Jaugust and June-ly, but I'm hoping end of summer -- that's kind of what we're shooting for.

SHEIR

00:04:39
Possibly Auptember?

STAVROPOULOUS

00:04:41
I hope not, but possibly.

SHEIR

00:04:43
The as-yet-unnamed eatery will be part diner, part coffee house and part bar. And it'll be open 24 hours. That seems like a pretty bold choice.

STAVROPOULOUS

00:04:52
Well, we do already. The Diner.

SHEIR

00:04:53
Right, but Adams Morgan -- I feel like this neighborhood's more residential.

STAVROPOULOUS

00:04:57
You're right. This place I see more like a diner you'd find in a Brooklyn neighborhood. We're not expecting a big graveyard crowd like at The Diner.

SHEIR

00:05:05
Stavropoulous says he does bemoan the recent restaurant closings, but he celebrates the numerous openings especially here on 11th Street. Meridian Pint, Kangaroo Boxing Club, Maple, El Chucho's, they're just several of the many eateries that have recently hit the D.C. dining scene.

STAVROPOULOUS

00:05:20
So I don't think we're at a net loss of restaurants. I think we're probably at a net gain right now.

SHEIR

00:05:26
And Eater D.C. editor Amy McKeever agrees. Like Jessica Sidman at the City Paper, McKeever says D.C.s dining scene is exploding.

MS. AMY MCKEEVER

00:05:33
Yeah I think it's been exploding for awhile and maybe just continues to accelerate. I think there's a fancy science term for that, but don't know it.

SHEIR

00:05:46
Actually, I think accelerate will do the trick, though that doesn't mask the fact that we're still seeing so many restaurants close. In fact, in late June, McKeever wrote an Eater D.C. post titled "Thirty Days of Terror" in which she listed all the restaurants that had either announced or carried out closures since late May.

MCKEEVER

00:06:04
I would just find myself writing more about closings than usual and then finally that one week happened where like every day I was writing about at least one or two restaurants closing. And they were not just all small ones, but it was pretty big-name and beloved restaurants.

SHEIR

00:06:19
McKeever attributes the closings mainly to the economy and rising rents and sure, quality could play a role, too.

MCKEEVER

00:06:26
When these shutters do happen what I often see immediately after I post about it is people saying Oh, no surprise. The food there was terrible. Everything sucked.

SHEIR

00:06:37
And while they may be right, she says, you have to remember one thing. Lost restaurants mean lost jobs.

MCKEEVER

00:06:43
There were some former employees at Buddha Bar who were trying to reach out and help these people. Like a guy who works with a bunch of restaurants and he had worked at Buddha Bar and was trying to hook up all of his old friends with new jobs by doing like a Facebook campaign and emailing all the restaurateurs that he knew. And one can only hope that all the people who lost their jobs in the 30 days of terror were able to find new jobs.

SHEIR

00:07:08
Of course for some working at a restaurant is more than just a job. Ron Newmeyer says that Armand's Chicago Pizzeria, it's more like being part of a family. A family that first and foremost includes staff.

NEWMEYER

00:07:21
A lot of the long-time employees have been here 20, 25 years and there's been at least 10 marriages from employees, just that we know of.

SHEIR

00:07:28
But it's also a family that includes customers, many of whom flocked to Armand's in its final days to devour one last pizza.

NEWMEYER

00:07:36
We had a father and son drive five hours from Northern New Jersey. He had been telling his 17-year-old son since he was born about Armand's Pizza and his son had never tried it. And I said, How long are you going to be in town? And he said, We're driving back tomorrow afternoon. I said, What else are you going to do while you're in town? Figuring he'd say Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian. Well, we're coming back for dinner tonight. I said, That's amazing. What are you doing tomorrow? We're coming back for lunch tomorrow. So it takes some of the sting out of having to leave after this long.

SHEIR

00:08:02
Because the way Ron Newmeyer sees it, at Armand's Deep Dish Pizza, the dishes aren't the only things that run deep. The memories run pretty deep, too. To get a peek at recent restaurant closings along with new and upcoming openings, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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