Hello and Goodbye: The Restaurant Bubble

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Change often means having to say goodbye. This is also true for restaurants. Last year, D.C. saw the closing of roughly 136 restaurants. And less than a month into 2017, some local D.C. favorites have thrown in the towel. With the rising costs of labor and rent and the pandemic of look-alike establishments, there are fears that D.C. is in the midst of a restaurant bubble.

One of the first to fall was the highly anticipated and very expensive Shaw Bijou, which closed after being open for just two and a half months. On Jan. 15, its website read: “The Shaw Bijou is closed. We thank you for your excitement and enjoyed being part of the vibrant Shaw community and serving our wonderful guests.” This came after the $185-per-person tasting menu price tag was lowered (to $95) and a la carte options added.

On Jan. 12, the Dairy Godmother, an Obama hot spot, announced on its blog, run by owner Liz Davis, that the shop would not reopen after its traditional January-February break. Another big surprise was the announced closing of the Clyde’s location in Tysons Corner. Though it’s being shuttered to allow developers to move in, Feb. 5 will still be seen as a sad day for Clyde’s lovers.

With the rising costs of labor and rent and the pandemic of look-alike establishments, there are fears that D.C. is in the midst of a restaurant bubble.

December’s bad news included the closing of Vidalia, a longtime favorite of restaurant-goers who enjoyed its unique Southern-style cooking. The Washington Post reported that chef and owner Jeff Buben and his wife Sallie decided not to renew the restaurant’s lease. Also, after just two and a half years, STK, the “female-friendly” steakhouse located at 1250 Connecticut Ave. NW (a space known to be a restaurant death trap), closed its doors Dec. 17. This did not come as a total surprise, since it was criticized for “petite” portions, poor lighting and a club-like atmosphere that made it hard to dine. Even City Center took an “L” in December with the closing of Mango Tree, a Thai chain restaurant.

But perhaps we should look at all these changes in terms of the bubble taking on a new shape, rather than bursting. With the many anticipated restaurant openings — including the return of Frank Ruta with Mirabelle (in February or March) and Johnny Spero’s Reverie (this summer) — it’s clear that dining out is not a dying industry.

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