‘It’s Brutal:’ A Lot Of Major D.C. Restaurants And Food Companies Closed This Week

It’s been quite a week in the D.C. restaurant world. After two-and-a-half years of pandemic-related struggles and closures, at least five major businesses closed their doors this week alone. Some of the establishments were short-lived: Korean-inspired restaurant Magpie and the Tiger is closing after opening in Petworth just seven months ago. Capitol Hill fine-dining restaurant Newland is closing after just four months, citing rising food costs, labor shortages, and economic uncertainty.

Others, like independent pickle and fermented food company Number 1 Sons, have been in business for years. No longer able to operate in their current space, the owners announced their last day at local farmers markets would be Aug. 28 and 29.

Mexican restaurant Espita plans to shutter on Aug. 13, but will reopen as a new concept by next month. And in July, Bad Saint, 3 Stars Brewing, and Green Hat Gin all closed up shop (at least Green Hat will continue to produce gin from Kansas).

Locals who follow the industry have speculated a number of root causes — from difficulties navigating the COVID-19 waves to rising costs of goods and packaging. As Kevin Tien, who helped open Magpie with Chef Caleb Jang and his wife Roren Choi, put it to Washingtonian: “There’s numerous reasons, from rising costs and staffing and permitting from the city.” He said that despite the restaurant’s popularity, consistency is what keeps restaurants alive.

Some terminations have been harder to explain. Union Market’s Rappahannock Oyster Bar is closing, despite doing well financially. “[The landlord] told us to vacate the premises and gave us two months notice, which puts us at the end of August,” owner Travis Croxton told PoPville in an email. “The restaurant was doing great — this is by no means a financial decision whatsoever (and again, it was not our decision) — we had rebounded in an amazing way after the initial COVID onslaught and had better success than ever, so honestly the news hit us like a punch to the gut.”

Some restaurants are simply adapting their brands to meet shifting demands — Georgetown beer hall Church Hall, for example, has reopened as Clubhouse, an all-day café that operates as a 23-and-up bar at night to prevent underage drinking.

David, who runs the local food news account Eat DC, shares that it’s hard to attribute the closures to any one factor, but that he has noticed some patterns in his talks with restaurant owners and employees. Often, it just comes down to money.

“In a nutshell, it’s harder to run a business these days,” says David, who preferred to just use his first name to protect his professional identity. “There’s a lot less margin for error and prices for everything are so much harder. You don’t get a lot of runway unless you have a really willing landlord or willing investors.”

He noted that with rising costs of just about everything — including Ubers — diners are much less likely to trek across town for an expensive meal. Fewer commuters want to wait 20 minutes if they miss the Metro to the nearest stop.

On top of that, owners are tired of pivoting business models after doing so for nearly three years. Employees are quitting after being the face of the industry and suffering abuse from customers who are frustrated with the state of the world, mask mandates, and other restrictions. Departures create staff shortages.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Aviva Goldfarb, a D.C. resident who runs marketing for restaurants in multiple cities, including HipCityVeg, says the restaurant industry is often the first to take a hit during any trends the pandemic has brought on.

“Some restaurants are closing because it just never ends,” Goldfarb says. “It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep. People are living on the edge, and the restaurant industry has always lived a bit on the edge.” I have so much empathy for the restaurants that are saying, ‘This is it.’ It’s brutal.”

Still, David says about 100 restaurants close each year in the District — and hundreds of businesses have closed here since the pandemic began. It feels really concentrated this week, but it’s hard to say whether the recent closures suggest a major trend. “Everything still feels like we blame it on COVID — which is true in a sense,” David says. “But also, every closure is kind of multifaceted and happens for so many reasons. You talk to the owners and sometimes they don’t have a particular reason.”

Some restaurant owners, David says, have told him they’ve had their best week in a long time.

And for the chefs behind Magpie and the Tiger, at least, this isn’t the end. The chefs hope to reopen the concept in a different location, per Washingtonian. In a farewell statement, Jang and Choi thanked loyal customers for their support and told them to continue following their journey online.

The post ‘It’s Brutal:’ A Lot Of Major D.C. Restaurants And Food Companies Closed This Week appeared first on DCist.

This content was originally published here.

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