The Answers Issue: Why are there no decent restaurants east of the Anacostia River?

Why are there no decent restaurants east of the Anacostia River?

Some restaurateurs might tell you that average household income isn’t as high as it is elsewhere, or that there’s not enough daytime traffic or density. But the biggest factor? East of the river has an image problem. “Brokers or property owners sell the hype,” says restaurant broker John Asadoorian of Asadoorian Retail Solutions, who’s helped find locations for restaurants like Dolcezza, Pete’s Apizza, DGS Delicatessen, and Le Diplomate. But Anacostia or Congress Heights or Benning? Not a lot of hype. “If you step off a plane at Reagan [National] Airport, chances are you’ve heard of 14th Street. But if you step off a plane at National Airport and somebody says to you, ‘Hey, there’s this new shopping center being built over by Skyland.’ They’ll be like, ‘Where?’” Asadoorian sells his clients on 14th Street NW, because, well, everybody’s talking about it.

But aside from “hot streets,” brokers also direct restaurateurs to underserved areas. “There is opportunity,” Asadoorian says of Anacostia. “But there are other areas where the opportunity is greater, and people are more focused on that.” Plus, developers and real estate brokers aren’t selling east of the river neighborhoods the way they market Barracks Row, Shaw, Bloomingdale, Capitol Riverfront, H Street NE, U Street NW, or the Union Market area. “I, for one, don’t get any flyers or information. No one’s selling me a story,” Asadoorian says. “I don’t know of any availabilities. I don’t have anybody telling me why I should bring my clients over there.” As a result, Asadoorian says east of the river locations don’t even come up when he meets with his clients about potential locations. “That’s why 14th Street is so saturated. There’s so many people selling the story.”

Domku owner Kera Carpenter is one restaurateur who is venturing east of the river. In the coming weeks, she plans to open Nurish Food + Drink inside the Anacostia Arts Center. In addition to selling sandwiches and salads, the cafe will operate a training program for high school students and recent graduates in Anacostia who are interested in becoming food entrepreneurs. She agrees that there’s a perception problem where restaurateurs feel the area lacks the income levels they’d need to support their business, or that they wouldn’t be able to draw patrons from the rest of the region. “There are a lot of uncertainties, including stereotypes of the populations that live on that side of the river,” Carpenter says. But she believes many of the perceptions are inaccurate. “People east of the river want the same things that people west of the river want. They want to have access to good restaurants, to good coffee shops, to good retail, to culture, to a variety of options close by. Why wouldn’t somebody in Anacostia want to be able to get a decent cup of coffee or have dinner with wine in their own neighborhood? And the answer to that is, they do.”

Carpenter isn’t the only one trying to make a change to the dining scene east of the river. Uniontown Bar & Grill, one of the few full-service restaurants, reopened under new ownership this summer, and Andy Shallal has long talked about opening a Busboys & Poets there (though there’s no lease yet). Most recently, longtime gay bar DC Eagle revealed plans to open a restaurant and dance bar with capacity for 800 people on Benning Road NE. And as residents of Dupont and Logan Circle may tell you, today’s gayborhood is tomorrow’s development hotspot.

Our Readers Say

I haven't been to Thai Orchid but hear it's pretty good. I'd also assume that the IHOP on Alabama Ave. is just as decent as other IHOPs.
This article is correct: the main issues are 'perception' and the lack of context for most non-native Washingtonians under age 50 or 60. A native of McLean, I moved to 'Hillcrest' SE 18 years ago because it was quiet and the homes were lovely. My visitors from outside of the DC area are dumbfounded that DC-natives look-askance at Hillcrest, Penn-Branch, Dupont Park and Fairfax Village - Southeast areas offering single-family living just minutes from Capitol Hill (with double the space, at half the price). Harsh Truth: Washingtonians LOVE to cling to the belief that all of Southeast is crime-ridden even in the face of the facts. I also beg to differ with the developers in the story that this is 'unknown information'. The same economic drill-down study by the group Social Compact which led to the re-development of Columbia Heights also recommended (just as strongly) for the re-development of Skyland Mall on Alabama Ave, SE. It was called the "Columbia Heights - Anacostia/Skyland" Study. Sadly, the developers were simply more interested in investing in Upper NW (and, admittedly, because of decades of governmental inattention, the issues at Skyland took more time to unravel). But every 3 to 5 years, the Media will 'discover' (...again) these quiet, safe, residential neighborhoods with a middle-class hungering for retail (and a working class ready for increased employment opportunities). While I literally cannot remember the last time there was a murder in my neighborhood, friends living in 'good neighborhoods' like Columbia Heights, Adams-Morgan, Bloomingdale and Logan Circle abide daily purse-snatchings, shootings and the nuisance crimes inherent in a more 'urban' setting. Hubris is an astounding thing.
We don't want a gayborhood. You can keep your development if you intend gentrify our neighborhood and further demoralize our residents with your drugs, with your mosques, churches, and with your gay agenda.
I moved to Hillcrest about 7 years ago because it was affordable to buy. Right now, I would not be able to RENT an apartment in the District for what my mortgage is. I agree 1000% with jbpr. If you look at the crime stats, the areas in NW that have been developed have now seen a serious increase in thefts, etc. Quite a few crimes that have occurred in Hillcrest have been domestic in nature. One blotch on our record, however, is the failed YES!, but I do believe that we should be able to benefit from development like any part of this city.
@BFord - thanks for writing a solid, intelligent assessment, but two clarifications: crime in 'Safe' NW existed l-o-n-g before gentrification. I moved to Hillcrest from Adams-Morgan in 1996, and both robberies and nuisance crime far exceeded that in Hillcrest and environs. But the perception was that it would be the opposite. Part of that is the fact that all SE neighborhoods are lumped together. The TV News says "there was a shooting in SE". Well... WHERE? Most of what crime remains in SE occurs miles from Hillcrest/Penn-Branch (just as an 'incident' on Georgia Ave has no impact on life in, say, Crestwood or North Portal off 16th). Secondly, along those same lines, YES Market was not located in Hillcrest, but rather in Twining (at the base of the Souza Bridge), in a highly-difficult to access venue (to get there coming from Penna Av westbound, you'd have to cross the Souza Bridge, then return to far SE in order to turn into the parking lot. While I understand college marketing textbooks would tell them to go for the 'density' of Pennsylvania at Minnesota Ave, lets face it: the customers with the disposable income to patronize YES at this juncture lif3 a mile up Pennsylvania Ave. Had YES located in, say, Penn-Branch Shopping Center, all of Hillcrest, Penn-Branch and Dupont Park would have flocked there.

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