Above: Though a blooper, in this episode Jerry thinks he knows how to make Babu Bhatt’s restaurant can succeed.
Suburbs or city, there are always those locations where a business just can’t make it work. One business fails, only to be replaced by another enterprise months later, which also fails. The cycle continues.
Just like Jerry Seinfeld when he tells Babu Bhatt how he can make his restaurant succeed where others have failed (authentic Pakistani), most neighborhood denizens think they know how to solve this problem. Of course, they probably aren’t willing to put $100,000 on the line.
On Pennsylvania Avenue SE, two adjacent restaurant storefronts are doing that dreadfully familiar recessionary cha-cha. The one on the left, currently Mi Vecindad, has been deadsville every time I have passed it since opening. With a somewhat generic-looking latino menu and al fresco dining on one of the ugliest stretches of sidewalk this side of the Anacostia (the left side of the photo), only a rave review from a food critic would draw most people to this restaurant.
Before Mi Vecindad was Pacific Cafe, and before that another restaurant. Pacific Cafe’s place settings were left out after it closed one day, like the owner just threw his apron down and said: enough! The new owner did a few renovations and opened with a similar use of space. Different paint job, but the above photo is not far off.
Next door is/was Dulce, a restaurant that opened about a year ago and closed about three months later. They offered some sort of nebulous home cookin’ menu. Despite promising myself I would try it, it closed before I could.
Here comes my Seinfeldian breakdown. Until some huge apartment towers go in this area or something, no full-service restaurant is going to cut it on this corner save for a destination restaurant, on the level of Granville Moore’s. I have reservations about whether even a takeout could make it work. This stretch of Pennsylvania is between two activity centers, the bustling tony Eastern Market neighborhood and the grocery store district around the Potomac Avenue Metro station. People don’t really walk between these two areas, except perhaps to go the grocery, and by a read of the license plates, most of the diners on Barracks Row are driving from VA or MD, not walking over from Barney Circle. Workday diners? They’re going to Mangialardo’s for a sandwich.
My best advice to “Henry,” who boasts a restaurant empire in Capitol Hill including the decent La Plaza, is to put 10-story condo buildings on top of his restaurant if he wants to succeed. Otherwise, any sort of fine cuisine or al fresco bus fume cuisine just isn’t going to thrive here. Not enough foot traffic, and there already is a destination dining scene just blocks away. There is a reason there are so many empty storefronts on Pennsylvania Ave SE SE south of Eighth Street SE: No demand for anything but Boost Mobile stores. I hope the next entrepreneur on this scene takes a second to rethink a venture here, because it’s a tough nut to crack.
This isn’t a problem related to this corner. I remember growing up seeing the same gas station reopen half a dozen times, always a motivated businessperson trying to make that Citgo station work. And until the gas pumps were vanquished, it never did. So what will become of the future of this corner, which is surrounded by a neighborhood of fancy rowhouses? Only time will tell. But it certainly is painful to watch brave business people fail, one after the other.