What Chutzpah: Call Your Mother Deli May Close Due to Zoning Technicality 

This article was updated on June 14.

A dispute about the continuance of a popular bagel shop in the famous bright pink building on the corner of O and 35th Streets NW, just two blocks from the main gate of Georgetown University, is escalating quickly. Call Your Mother is “a Jew-ish deli” and bagel retail store that puts together and serves take-out customers dozens of fresh bagels on the edge of a mixed retail-restaurant and high-end residential neighborhood. “Put together” is the definitive word here — at least, in terms of zoning. The business is seeking a special exception to it zoning designation and could lose its right to do business there.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment decided to revisit the topic in late September after an hourslong meeting on Wednesday, Axios reported on June 14. “I think we can work on a good neighbor policy,” said board member Anthony Hood.

That block of Georgetown is the epitome of the District’s complicated, multi-layered zoning laws, some of them almost 100 years old. Almost every lot on the block is subject to different zoning variance options depending on how the owner intends to use the property. The bright pink building for years was a flower and gift store and before an antique shop — and even earlier, a grocery store. Two doors away is a barber shop. Across the street on the corner was is Coffee Republic coffee shop (years before that, Saxby’s) that is quite popular with Georgetown students. And on the other two corners are multi-million dollar residences.

For decades, a coffee shop at 3500 O St. NW has served pastries, made deli sandwiches and had outdoor seating. Its approved zoning made it all proper and legal.

But Call Your Mother sits at 3428 O St. NW on a residentially zoned lot with multitudes of rules about not being allowed to prepare food or serve it openly if another eatery exists nearby and other such minute regulations.

“In short, corner retail stores have been allowed at the location since the 1850s, but they cannot sell prepared foods without a special exemption,” Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Topher Matthews explained in a detailed piece he posted online.

But there is always room for exceptions, waivers, nuances and changes. In 2020, one of the most heated ANC meetings that the Georgetowner covered, that went on past midnight with dozens of testifiers pro and con, took place — regarding exceptions and waivers and variances to allow a drop-in (no seating) bagel place operate there (a copy of the popular Call Your Mother bagel store at Union Station). The discussions were so compelling that during the meeting, the Georgetowner watched as commissioners exchanged texts and changed their minds during the presentation.

The bagel shop co-owners and married couple Andrew Dana and Daniela Moreira were cooperative and responsive to all the problems brought up by neighbors, mainly concerning the attraction of rodents, traffic and noise and long lines of people during the afternoon when children were getting home from school. They agreed to double trash pickups during the weeks; to close at 2 p.m.; no cooking but just to put together bagel packets, and not to allow sit down eating at the establishment. By the end of the evening, what had looked like an obvious non-approval by the ANC 2E turned into an approval.

“You’re opening a pandora’s box,” warned one neighbor.

That box turned out to be the shop’s popularity. Georgetowners and others order their bagels on line and especially during the weekend, sit on the front steps and border walls of neighboring houses to eat.

In an attention-grabbing coup, Call Your Mother sold bagels to the Biden family on Jan. 24, 2021. Only days into his presidency, Joe Biden stopped his motorcade at the corner after Mass at Holy Trinity Church. 

Call Your Mother owners have posted signs asking people not to eat or gather there. They have hired employees to ask customers not to sit on neighboring properties, they’ve erected rope lines for orderly lines to form.

“The owners have cooperated with daily trash pickup, put up signs not to sit on private property, early closing hours and the like,” said Commissioner Paul Maysak at the most recent ANC meeting,when concerns of neighbors were openly discussed. “But there is only so much you can do with crowds of customers.”

“The ANC does not have an advisory voice on zoning complaints,” ANC Chair Gwen Lohse noted. Nevertheless, Commissioners voted 7 to 2 to pass a resolution voicing concern about complaints and problems.

Views pro and con on Call Your Mother were heard at the June 3 Georgetown Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting. Georgetowner photos.

“Most notably, the ANC concludes that the large crowds that critically cannot be contained within the establishment create a routine objectionable condition. The applicant has made attempts and promised plans to address these crowds and the detrimental impact they have, but these attempts have not and will not succeed without a fundamental shift in shop operations. Therefore, the ANC cannot support the special exception at this time,” the resolution letter said.

“But this is really about the number of customers on weekends,” Maysak said. “I don’t have a solution for that.”

A June 12 meeting of the Board of Zoning Adjustment heard testimony on the Call Your Mother issue.

“Do you guys love this Georgetown store as much as I do?” Dana said in an Instagram video. He asked neighborhood supporters to reach out via email at hello@callyourmotherdeli.com.




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