Young and Hungry

Furstenberg’s Departure from G Street: What Does It Say About D.C.?

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We all know how hard it is to get a good, gourmet sandwich in this town. Well, it got a lot harder yesterday with the news, via WaPo's Tom Sietsema, that master baker Mark Furstenberg has decided to leave G Street Food, the once-and-former street food operation that turns out an excellent banh mi.

Y&H caught up with Furstenberg yesterday morning to ask him if selling street food from a brick-and-mortar building was a concept doomed to fail from the start — or if Washingtonians just aren't into street food. My question is based on an unavoidable fact: not enough people are eating at G Street, which has forced the owners to start looking for ways to cut costs, a situation that did not always sit well with a perfectionist like Furstenberg.

"I just think that at G Street,  we needed more time to get this established," the Bread Line founder told Y&H. "I don't know if there's any reason that this can't be moved inside."

Furstenberg has an alternative theory as to why G Street Food hasn't attracted the numbers it had originally envisioned: People don't want to think about food during lunch.

"I think I underestimated the degree to which people want comfort food for lunch," Furstenberg says. "They don't want to be distracted by food."

People, in other words, don't necessarily want to ponder (or luxuriate in) their meal during lunch time. They want something familiar and something quick.

Furstenberg may be onto something here. What do you think, Y&H Nation? Do you want to stretch the limits of your palate during lunch, during a potentially stressful work day, or do you just want comfort foods? E-mail me and let me know your thoughts.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Simon

    Too bad -- G Street Food was great. I think he picked the wrong location -- something like that would've gone over huge in Old Town, Alex. (where lunch is about half local employees, half shoppers and "ladies who lunch").

  • Maggie

    I know a lot of people who went the first few weeks and were disappointed by the food quality, price and service. I heard a lot of complaints about how disorganized it was when it first opened. These people didn't go back.

  • sarah

    that statement cannot be applied as a blanket judgement for workers in DC. i, for example, like having an interesting lunch, and i specifically seek out new and interesting places to eat. but food is also pretty important to me, i love it. i know other people in my life/office who feel the same way, but i know plenty who don't as well. most people in my department couldn't give a shit about what they're eating for lunch and will be happy with pretty much anything edible. i was (am? is the restaurant going to continue without him?) excited about getting over to G street, but it's about 3/4 of a mile from my office, which is kind of limiting to me personally. but i think there is definitely a market for this kind of place in DC. maybe in a place with more foot traffic that isn't office drones. simon above suggested old town, i'd even say closer to dupont or adams morgan (where i live, and i think it would go over pretty well, especially during late night hours!)

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/food/ Orr Shtuhl

    What keeps me away from G Street Food was the giant holes in the menu for a place focused on street food -- India and China. For East Asian food in general, they really only offered banh mi; from India, they lacked samosas, chapati, or any other fried goodies.

    China and India each have more than a billion people, and they know how to feed them for cheap. Sloppy joes and personal pizzas won't bring me to a new lunch place, but in a city with so deficient a Chinatown, Chinese street food -- steamed and fried dumplings, and pancakes (jian bing) -- will.

    What's jian bing? Here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/khedara/2422800015/

  • Tim Carman

    G Street did offer an Indian lentil salad on its opening menu, but as Furstenberg has pointed out before, it's hard to stay afloat selling items that people won't buy in quantities enough to justify the ingredients and the time to produce it.

    Marketing and better menu descriptions might have helped G Street more, but as Simon has pointed out, location might have handicapped the concept, too.

    It's easy for outsiders to say what a restaurant should and shouldn't do, but it's a far different experience when your own cash is on the line -- and you're just trying to keep the doors open.

  • http://www.newyorkest.com Josh Glasstetter

    Is Mark Furstenberg the Nick Cho of bread, or is Nick Cho the Mark Furstenberg of coffee? Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of both people, and their creations. But without a sustainable business model, you've got nothing.

  • GD

    Street food belongs on the street, not in a building where operating costs can not be paid by selling sandwiches for lunch. Who wrote their business plan and who approved that loan?

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