Housing Complex

Going Backwards on Benning Road


I had such high hopes for the Roadside Cafe, which opened last April with Jamaican food and outdoor seating on a stretch of Benning Road NE that doesn't have much of either. Earlier this month, it quietly closed, and last weekend I noticed a sign announcing the imminent arrival of tires.

What went wrong?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa White says that Roadside wasn't behind on rent or utilities, but had signed a triple net lease—agreeing to pay for all building costs—and couldn't handle the taxes. The property taxes were actually lower in 2011 than the previous two years, though, and have been paid on time since 2005, so that doesn't appear to have been the issue.

Roadside's real problem might have been the new landlord: Taxi baron Gerry Schaeffer, also the owner of the Ward 5 Walmart parcel and formerly of the H Street Murry's location, bought the property last May. He's now leased the lot to Million Man Tires, which has another location on Georgia Avenue NW. It's a loss for that fragile corridor. New businesses are canaries in coal mines, and their success attracts others, while failure warns them off, and it may take the streetcar's long-delayed arrival to bring them back.

  • Political Observer

    Where's the "Hard Work & Real Results" Councilmember Alexander? Did you trade this deal with Schaeffer to get s space for your billboards on his gas station properties?

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    uh, what did you expect. It's Benning Road. Not Connecticut Ave. The person who opened the cafe probably thought that the relative difference in rents compared to "better" locations made the place worth taking. But a "restaurant" in that location was going to have a hard time attracting customers. In fact it did. So it failed.

    I don't think the taxi guy feels that you have to have car related businesses in his spaces. Otherwise he wouldn't have made a deal with Abdo or later Rick Walker for some of his property on NY Avenue.

  • http://wifandhub.com Bob Coomber

    Mr. Layman,

    While I agree that the property where Roadside was located was not ideal for a restaurant, I'd like to note that Langston Bar and Grill has been very successful over the past several years, and it's just a couple blocks away (Langston's at 19th and Benning, and Roadside was at 21st and Benning).

    Roadside failed because of a bad lease and too much focus on outdoor seating along a busy road. Benning has potential for additional successful restaurants and bars like Langston. Not as many as H Street or Connecticut Avenue, but certainly more than are there now.


  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    have to admit I haven't been to Langston Bar & Grill. But your points are good ones.

    One of the problems with failed businesses in revitalizing areas is that a lot of time the people who open the businesses are unskilled (or underskilled)--e.g., so they sign unfavorable leases, etc.--and the business fails as a result.

    But people don't question the business model or acumen of the proprietor, instead they make generalizations about the futility of opening businesses in that particular place, and other generalizations.

    You could argue I was guilty of that generalization.

    In any case, people blame the district not the business, and it makes it that much harder to spur retail revitalization.

    -- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2007/09/why-ask-why-because.html (this is from when I was a program manager for the Brookland Main Street program)

    FWIW, the first major business to open on H St. after the finalization of the "H St. Plan" was Family Dollar. We weren't pleased...

  • Rosa

    I went to the restaurant, and I'm honestly surprised it stayed open as long as it did. I had an awful experience and the inside of the restaurant was very awkwardly arranged. It has the look of an old garage, so I'm not surprised it's turning into a tire shop.

  • Hillrat

    Councilmember Alexander could not give a rat's A** about small businesses. She just has staff on her payroll & Walmart's!

  • OccupytheCouncil

    @ Richard Layman.

    Who are you referring to regarding not being happy with the opening of the Family Dollar?

    There must be plenty of happy shoppers patronizing the Family Dollar because it's still open for business.

  • Logan

    I never made it to to the Roadside Cafe while it was open, but I'm super disappointed that we're going to have yet another tire store in the neighborhood.

    As an aside, thank you Lydia for providing so much coverage on the Rosedale and Kingman Park neighborhoods!

  • pat b

    i went 2 times to Roadside.

    Good food, Great service, limited menu, terrible seating.

    They were a summer place, waiting for the trolley.

    Sorry to see them go

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    Who cares where something is if it has great food!

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