City Desk

Romeo Morgan and Cliff Valenti Bury the Hatchet (Sort of)

Romeo Morgan is fed up with waiting on community leaders to endorse his liquor license application, some 234 days now and counting, he says.

“We have people who are elected as ANC commissioners to represent us in our neighborhood, but then my ANC commissioner refused to even put me on the schedule to be heard, because it’s either ‘You do it my way, or it’s going to be no way at all,'" says Morgan, proprietor of the longstanding Morgan's Seafood eatery in Parkview. (City Paper alum Annys Shin previously profiled the Morgan family business and its repeated struggles with cars crashing into the restaurant in 2002.)

For weeks, the charismatic Rastafarian restaurateur has been engaged in a war of words with local ANC 1A commissioner Cliff Valenti, who points to several reasons why Morgan shouldn't acquire a license – including Morgan's allegedly leaving "junk" in the alley and the supposed correlation between liquor licenses and violent crime on Georgia Avenue NW.

On Wednesday, City Desk asked Morgan about his relationship with Valenti and why their differences seemed so irreconcilable. Morgan said some not-so-nice things about Valenti’s character, and claimed that Valenti had insulted his family business at a previous ANC meeting, allegedly telling fellow commissioner William Jordan that Morgan’s Seafood is “atrocious.” Valenti vehemently denies this statement.

The friction between the two seemed to come to a head at an ANC meeting two weeks ago, which got so out of hand during a discussion about Morgan's liquor plan that Valenti subsequently stepped down as committee chair, citing certain “personalities that I can’t manage." He meant Morgan. When City Desk asked Valenti why he resigned, he replied, "I was called something I'm not willing to repeat."

So, when the community members and ANC commissioners agreed to convene again to discuss Morgan’s case, in a more hospitable environment, they met at the restaurant. Attendants pulled stools out onto the sidewalk, arranging them in a semi-circle next to a white fold-out sign that said “BAR B QUE,” stenciled in red paint. Commissioner Jordan prefaced the discussion by saying this was an informal way of hearing community feedback. The issue at hand was whether a tavern license would be a nuisance to neighbors, increasing the number of drunks wandering the streets, pissing in alleys, and bringing the noise to an unacceptable level.

Morgan, who is wont to emotional outbursts, fervently answered these concerns. He cited his loyalty to the community, his former career as a Marine and his affable character. A pair of George Washington University graduates who live in the area dropped by to voice their opinion, one of them said, “No one has made me feel as comfortable as Romeo after moving in.”

Morgan used this support to bolster his point, “Eighty percent of my customers would like to be able to sit out, eat crabs, eat a fish sandwich, or whatever is in season, and have drink. If you want a crab cake sandwich, a cold beer goes directly with it.”

But underneath these comments, and Morgan’s frustration with other local restaurants receiving approval for a license in as little as thirty days, the simmering tension between Valenti and Morgan burst out intermittently throughout the debate. Morgan made it very clear that Valenti’s alleged remark about the restaurant had crossed the line. “I live and die by my family’s name,” said Morgan.

Then, a heated back and forth ensued: "Let me ask you something," said Romeo. "Did you want a back porch on your house?"

"Yeah," Valenti answered hesitantly.

"Ok, so why is it that you choose to have a back porch?" Morgan asked.

"Because zoning code allows me to have a back porch," Valenti said.

"And zoning code allows me to have a tavern license," Morgan replied.

"And by right I can have a back porch," Valenti said.

"And by right I can have a tavern license," Morgan responded.

"No," Valenti countered. "It’s a privilege, not a right."

Valenti insisted his criticism was "not about Romeo’s personality," adding, "and I happen to like him very much. I have never called your business atrocious. Never, never, never. Here’s the problem of why I get more and more suspicious and afraid of you getting a liquor license in this neighborhood. There are regulations that you’re supposed to abide by in order to get a liquor license. You’re supposed to have a wall up, blocking your garbage cans. I don’t see a wall there. You’re not supposed to have all that junk in the back. If you’re not allowed to have that now, and you’re seeking a liquor license, there are other violations we could go over.How are we supposed to trust you when the liquor license allows you play music as loud as you want until 2 a.m.?”

A few other neighbors agreed with Valenti’s concerns. Lisa Eady, a woman who lives a couple houses down from the restaurant, was one of them:

“We have more than enough liquor establishments in this neighborhood. The people hanging out, urination and defecation in the alleys, it wouldn’t be a good thing.”

At one point, between the shouting and the circular argumentation, a voice of reason came from the corner of the semi-circle. An old man named Jonathan Mundwa, a native Ugandan, summed up the central concerns. For the first time, everyone at the meeting was silent.

“This is my community. The only thing I’m trying to understand is that this man is asking for a license to do his business so he can help us when we need help. I live here and I die here, but before I die, I want where I live to be very peaceful and nice. If you put clear what you plan to do, we in community don’t care how much money you make out of it, we are after peace and security.”

When the meeting concluded, and the commissioners had agreed on the next meeting time, City Desk helped Morgan put the stools back inside. His frustration was still inflamed. As we chatted for a little longer while he cooked me a crab cake to take home, a man walked in with a bicycle to buy some chicken. Morgan had already cooked it, explaining in detail the correct procedure to make the chicken fall of the bone when you eat it. After reheating it, and draining the chicken fat into a steel pan, he brought the pan over to show me. “See,” he said. “I make sure my customers don’t eat that. That’s how much I care about them.”

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  • Manor

    Jonathan Mundwa for Mayor!

  • Ancysts

    I honestly do not see the need for ANCs. In every sinlge instance that a resident needs to go through this process of getting ANC approvals, the personalities and more frighteningly, the egos, of these ANCs come through. If you don't kowtow to their absurd demands, you have no chance in hell of getting the simplest thing passed. I attended the Mt. Pleasant Mural hearing a few months back and was astonished beyond my normal amazement at the sheer level of vindictive pettiness those ANCs had. There were over 500 names on a petition in front of these ANCs and dozens of community activist in favor of the mural, but they still voted it down. The reasoning- each ANC had their own, different, and at times, opposing positions on why not to support the Mural and why to support their own version of a mural. The fatass in charge even claimed he was an Arts History Major in college and knows fine art as a result. I guess Mr. Peck, the muralist who designed the rendition, didn't meet his standards.
    This was a pitiful showing of just how stupid and personal this ANC approval process can be.

  • jammin with jimbu

    Great reporting on a tough issue: what is a community's ability to regulate its density of liquor licenses? I don't think this is about the junk in the back, the wall to contain garbage, or even the personalities involved. That this difficult issue crashes down on one honorable businessman is not fair; the larger problem needs to be openly addressed by the whole community.

  • Anonymous

    I remember reading that article back in 2002 about Romeo Morgan. The guy is insane, he isn't really a Morgan (read the article too tough to try to explain).

    Anyway the article talked about the numerous times the building had been struck by cars. Would this outdoor eating area be located in the direct path of those crashes?

  • Rick Mangus

    As I have said again and again, you have to payoff the officals either at the ANC's or in city agencies, it's called the Potomac Shakedown!

  • andrew

    Romeo might have been part of the reason Valenti resigned, but I think it was more personality conflicts between ANC commissioners -- at the ANC meeting right before he resigned, there was a huge brouhaha when another commish, Lenwood Johnson, wore a Fenty button. Valenti objected, saying it was a violation of the Hatch Act (which does apply to ANC commissioners) and the meeting went off the rails. Valenti and Lenwood Johnson fight all the time, and at least on the internet, Valenti seems to be the reasonable one.

  • Al

    I stopped by for a minute but decided to leave when it was apparent that the commissioners there came without intent to listen to Romeo.

  • Chris

    Valenti is a good guy but gets emotionally wrapped up into his causes. The other commissioners bicker back and forth which is why I think he resigned. Keep in mind Morgan crashed several ANC meetings when he didn't even ask to be on the agenda, and this only added to the bickering. Morgan would do his business some good if he would clean it up a little.

  • Facts

    Eh, I wouldn't say that this was "good reporting on a tough issue." If if were thorough reporting, you would have noted that Romeo Morgan is suing one of the ANC Commissioners from 1A and you would also report that he can complain all he wants about the ANC from preventing him from getting license, but he has not even filed an application yet!

  • Abe

    How do we get a copy of this 2002 article? You have my interest peaked!

    I was at the meeting - here are my observations as a neighbor who was undecided before I attended the meeting:
    - Why was William Jordan calling to order and running a meeting that is not in his ANC district? And - then he leaves in the middle of the meeting he called? He is a bomb thrower and I see that he contributes a great deal to why the ANC meetings fall apart.
    - This Morgan guy's story kept changing throughout the evening. I find it interesting that the author didn't note that Morgan couldn't remember if he had filed an application with the city - but then he remembered that he had - and back and forth. Seems to me you would remember if you had filed the document that you have been bitching and moaning about for the past year. Very odd.
    - The place is a hole -- I mean even by DC standards this is not a place that passes muster and I wouldn't eat there -- but I am biased because the first day I ever walked by the place I saw a rat run into the open front door - so that kind of sets your view of a place.
    - I am miffed at Morgan's story that he wants to sell alcohol so that he can expand into a bigger business so that he can build Morgan Senior Plaza. Yup -- his rather odd reasoning is that he will use the beer and "Irish Coffee" sales profits to build a retirement community over his restaurant. (As a side note - name me a person who wants an Irish Coffee to drink with their fish sandwich or crab cakes and I will show you someone who needs some times in a mental institution.)
    - The author also fails to mention a huge point - that Morgan is suing Valenti and another ANC comish (I didn't catch her name) but that these two comishes still had the courtesy to come listen to him and the neighbors. They don't get paid for this job yet they get sued by the guy so they have to pay legal fees out of their pockets for a job they don't get paid for - that doesn't seem fair to me.
    - I don't see how Morgan will ever pull off a sidewalk cafe at this place -- it is a great dream but the space really would not allow it unless he puts a ton of money in to renovating the place and even then the sidewalk is too narrow.
    - I came away with the opinion that Morgan most likely wants the permit so that his property has more value because these permits are transferable and it would make the hole of a building more appealing to a prospective buyer who knows they can sink money into the property because it has the golden ticket of the alcohol permit.

  • Cassidy

    I read with interest your article on Mr Morgan's trouble with the ANC I have been to Morgans many times. My daughter loves his french fries and he always manages charming us into staying longer than I intend. I will say that his establishment is not for everyone. I appreciate it because it reminds me of time spent in the Caribbean where things are simpler and less pretentious. It is evident to me that Mr Morgan does take great pride in his place and he is their for the love of his community. I am sure this attitude is a carry over from his time in the Marines. He doesn't often talk about it but if you catch him in a bragging mood he will proudly tell you of his two sons that have served as Marines and his daughter how has just enlisted. He does have a reputation for insanity when it comes to anyone in his neighborhood praying on the weak I have heard other neighbors tell stories and I know first hand how quickly he will flag down a patrol car to let them know about anything he sees suspicious going on. I have to support Mr Morgan in his attempt to get a liquor license because I have enough friends in the restaurant business to know that right now it is tough to stay afloat and I think the neighborhood would lose a lot if Mr Morgan were to not be there on that corner

  • W Jordan

    The meeting was held a Morgans, because 1A commissioners chose to cancel the "Special Meeting" meant to deal with this issue, after Commissioner Valenti resigned as chair. While, the meeting a Morgan's was not perfect it did allow some neighbors to register their support, concerns and opposition. Hopefully, we will hand this matters better in the future.

  • Keeping It Real Peaceful on Kenyon

    If you take the time to read the CP 2002 article, all will see that Mr. Morgan AKA Anthony Williams is very deceptive in what he has planned for the corner of Kenyon and Georgia. Mr. Morgan keeps spewing the fact that he is a former MPD police officer, but no one can find the records of that.

    Mr. Morgan failed to share with the neighbors that have signed his petition; he was also seeking a Night Club license that will include stipulations for him to run his Night Club as late as 3 in the morning. Morgan is always drinking alcohol during his business hours; you can always smell it on his breath. In the 2002 article his proposed Night Club name is ‘Club Romie Rome” I rest my case, the title of the club says it all!

  • Kenyon St. Resident

    As a resident of Kenyon St. I do not want a nightclub on my block. Period. This has nothing to do with whether or not Romeo Morgan is a nice man and good to the community. He stated in the meeting last week that he wants to open a larger restaurant with a full bar and music. That, plus the 2002 article about "Romi Rome's" convinces me that his long-term plan is a nightclub. I ask my neighbors, is that what you really want on our block? Because you support Romeo as a person means you are willing to deal with nightclub crowds, noise, fights, and drunk people stubbling out of the club at 3 in the morning?! Seriously?! Think about your decision.

  • Morgans: Then and Now

    Prior to Morgan's Seafood, the 3200 Georgia Ave building was operated as a grocery store by a Jewish businessman Morris Silverman between 1912 and 1916.

    Morris N. Morgan opened Morgan’s Seafood which became a staple in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Later, Anthony R. Williams (aka Romeo Morgan after a name change), “the third member of the Morgan family” to run the business took over.

    What was once a DC staple institution under proper management quickly became a dilapidated, rat infested restaurant under Romeo’s control. The building holds a “high risk” insurance category due to 4 vehicles hitting the restaurant. Doesn’t sound like the best place for outdoor seating. Further, Romeo is often inebriated while managing the business. Sounds like another high risk category. Who wants a drunk proprietor managing a liquor establishment.

    Nonetheless, the issue at hand is that Romeo must follow the procedures/processes that all businesses must follow. File the application and be subject to the normal background checks like tax filings/reports, liens, etc. There should be no exceptions or attempts to influence the process by using Graham (again), blasting ANC members with racial epitaphs, bullying ANC members with lawsuits, or spreading false information to neighbors.

    The flip-flop unverified plan that Morgan w/ outdoor seating with liquor, then nightclub with music and closure past 2am, and perhaps a senior living establishment afterwards just shows his horrendous management/development dreams that are not good for the neighborhood.