Young and Hungry

Fish & Chips & Korean BBQ: Inside D.C.’s Bizarre Arthur Treacher’s

"Do you want chopsticks or silverware?" the cashier asks. A good question. What is the proper etiquette for utensil usage when dining at the local outpost of a Midwestern-founded New York-based national fast food seafood chain that also inexplicably serves Korean barbecue?

I'm standing inside the vibrantly painted Arthur Treacher's along Florida Avenue NW in Shaw, partaking of the advertised special—bulgogi with rice for $6.95. Yes, you can also get the typical Arthur Treacher's fish 'n' chips and other various fried seafood items. But the place also offers a separate menu (pictured below) of some non-traditional Arthur Treacher's dishes. In addition to bulgogi, the offerings include bibim bab (also $6.95), udong ($4.95) and ra myun ($2.95). You can also order a quarter-pound burger with cheese ($3.99).

Initially, I order the bulgogi sub ($5.95) but the cashier tells me that it's better with rice. Guess I'll go with the chopsticks.

When I ask the gentleman behind the counter about the unusual fusion of these two starkly different culinary traditions in one location, he simply embraces the diversity: "More items!"

After digging into the sticky sweet beef and julienned-veggie dish—roughly on par with your average Chinese takeout—I call up the New York headquarters of Nathan's Famous, the sort of parent company of Arthur Treacher's, to get some corporate perspective on D.C.'s bizarre new franchisee. I'm told the woman I need to speak with is out, so I have to leave a message. I also leave a message with the marketing manager at TruFoods, LLC, described in a Wall Street Journal article as the master licensee and co-brand partner of the fish 'n' chips chain. The same article quotes another Arthur Treacher's franchisee in Central Islip, Long Island, about his own hybrid restaurant, a co-branded Arthur Treacher's/Pudgie's Homemade Chicken. "The recession taught us to do more with less," he says in the piece, "and combining two or more of our brands maximizes rental space...."

I'm suddenly reminded of that Das Racist song about the "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell."

So I ring up a few other Arthur Treacher's locations to see if anyone else is embracing this new hot trend of blending bulgogi and fried cod.

First up, the next closest franchisee on my Google search, located along Saint Barnabas Road in Temple Hills, Md:

Y&H: "Do you serve Korean barbeque?"

WOMAN WHO ANSWERS THE PHONE: "No—not up in here."

Next on the list, Lee Highway in Fairfax:

Y&H: "Do you serve Korean barbecue?"

WOMAN WHO ANSWERS THE PHONE: [long pause] "Uh...this is a fish store."

OK. So it doesn't seem to be catching on in the D.C. suburbs. What about the outskirts of, say, Cleveland? I call up Arthur Treacher's along Center Road in Brunswick, Ohio:

Y&H: "Do you serve Korean barbecue?"

GUY WHO THE ANSWERS THE PHONE: "Korean barbecue? This is Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips. We're a seafood restaurant."

Y&H: "Yeah, well, there's an Arthur Treacher's here in town that serves Korean barbecue. That's why I'm asking?"

GUY: "Where are you at?"

Y&H: "Washington, D.C."

GUY: "Oh no, they must be doing that on their own. I've never even heard of that, to be honest with you."

Photos by Chris Shott

  • keptsimple

    I noticed this last weekend. At first I was surprised. Then I remembered that most of the Chinese takeout places in DC advertise "subs" on their signage, and I stopped being surprised.

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  • Neil

    All this and no answer to the most important question: Is the bulgogi any good? I guess "sticky sweet" is a clue...

  • Ming

    I second Neil, is the bulgogi any good?

    Washington City Paper is a local paper. While to read about inconsistency the Arthur Treacher's national brand, your local readers will care more to learn if they should visit this particular store to nosh.

  • Chris Shott

    Sorry guys. I'd say it's roughly on par with your average Chinese takeout. I'll add that little detail to better clarify. Thanks for the input.

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  • shawchica

    I had the veggie bim bop and think it was pretty good. Also think it's pretty easy to explain- the owners of this location are korean. Benefits the neighbors so hope all your "exploritory" calls don't change that.

  • DC Rez

    There' also an outlet in Alexandria on Route 1.

    It too is the old school Treech.

    The chain was popular in the 70's but was largely defunct by the late 80's. Some franchisees held on and went their own way when Corporate nearly ceased to exist. The chain has begun to reappear, albeit with new branding. Presumably, Shaw, PG and Alexandria are the old franchisees. Their restaurants all seem to have the old Corporate livery from the 70's.

  • Nova Nicoise

    There's an Arthur Treacher's in Falls Church, but it's not doing any pop up anything.

  • prognostication

    Inclined to agree with @shawchica that I really hope you didn't get the owners in trouble for the sake of a snarky blog post.

  • Nolo

    Seemed pretty obvious, since it's a franchise, that the bulgogi was unique to this location. Cheaper to open all set up than try opening a korean place from scratch. I hope they're successful and I would rather see the unique fish n chips/ korean combo than a cookie cutter chain in Shaw. Like @shawchica and @prognostication, I hope your calling the parent company wasn't equivalent to ratting them out.

  • Darth

    "There' also an outlet in Alexandria on Route 1.

    It too is the old school Treech."

    That one took down the old Arthur Treacher signage from their roof. I don't think they're affiliated anymore.

  • please, fire chris

    what an idiotic article. was mike madden asleep or otherwise indisposed that such drivel could go live? this ignores the fact that most asian fast food places in dc also have fried options. are we supposed to be impressed that you called the parent company of ats? the only thing remarkable is that you would mention such a basic reporting step. how pathetic that you couldn't get a real answer and had to make your fail so obvious.

  • Chris Shott

    Dear Please...

    Of course many Asian carry-outs also serve fried food. That's not the point. This is a local franchisee of a national chain that's also slinging Asian food on the side. Can you think of another one? Do tell.

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  • sarah

    I'll agree that this post was a little lame - it's a franchise, the owners know how to make korean food, why not offer some additional options, but obviously other random ATs aren't doing this.

    Anyway I live a few blocks away and have gotten the bibimbap a few times, it's not as great as the Korean cart downtown, but it's pretty good! Bulgogi is pretty good too. If you're in Shaw/Bloomingdale and craving Korean it will do in a pinch.

  • Bob

    More importantly,how is the fish and chips? Never heard of this franchise until I passed by on FL ave. So bizarre and really curious. I haven't seen a Long John Silver's in ages and this Treacher's place sounds pretty low-rent. It'd be like a Wendy's franchisee who is Vietnamese deciding to also sell Banh Mi. Too funny.

  • Mark

    I remember the Arthur Treacher's from when I was a kid. That was my favorite fish and chips. Plus their hush puppies was bangin.

  • Mark

    Something about the word 'Treacher's' just evokes the most perfect lightly fried crispy fish filets.