Young and Hungry

Joe Englert on Whole Foods Coming to H Street NE: “It’s Sad in Some Ways”


Big news for H Street NE today: Whole Foods is coming. The grocery chain plans to build a 39,000 square-foot store below a new apartment complex on H between 6th and 7th streets NE, where Murry's grocery store now sits. It's expected to open in the fall of 2016. 

Y&H happened to ask self-described tavern magnate Joe Englert, an owner of several H Street establishments including Rock & Roll Hotel, Granville Moore's, The Pug, and H Street Country Club, about the prospect of the yuppie grocer coming to H Street NE a few weeks ago. Here's a portion of the transcript from our conversation, beginning with Englert's feelings about the corridor:

JE: What I sort of like about H Street is I think it’s not baked yet, you know what I mean? We don’t know what it’s going to be yet. You know what 14th Street is going to be. You know what Dupont is. You don’t know what H Street is going to be yet. Hopefully, it just remains strange and sort of uncompleted all the time, I think that would be really good. I usually like people on H Street a lot. I think there’s a real openness and small town sort of atmosphere about it. And I hate the word diverse, but there’s a mixed bag of people...It’s just not done yet. It’s not smooth, slick. It’s just not perfect and brand name yet. It’s not Georgetown… It’s not really corporate.

Y&H: So let me ask you this: If and when Whole Foods comes to H Street, is that progress or a sign of the yuppie apocalypse? 

JE: Well, it’s sad in some ways.

Y&H: It would be sad?

JE: It’s good if you’re looking at it from a holistic point of view. Maybe ultimately it’s good because the schools would improve for the smaller kids. More money into the neighborhood perhaps means more empowered people would advocate for better schools and better education. That’s a good thing. But the sameness and the cookie-cutter branding I think would be depressing…Right now, you know you’re on H Street because it’s unbaked, it’s unfinished, it’s not slick, it’s still sort of rough. It would be a shame if it’s just like Columbia Heights.

Y&H: So you wouldn’t go buy your organic quinoa there?

JE: God, I don’t think the food’s good there. Besides nut and cheese, I don’t know why anybody would go to Whole Foods.

  • IMGoph

    Seriously, Joe? You realize that this is how the world works, and is the end result of a process you helped put in gear years back when you purchased commercial property here and opened places like the Argonaut. If you really feel that end result "would be a shame," why did you participate in the first place?

  • NE John

    Oh yea? Well your bars suck too!

    Welcome WF

  • JD

    I hope the people that go to Argonaut for cous cous tofu or Granville Moore's for kale salad with smoked trout and pine nuts or aren't too turned off from the neighborhood now to cause this guy to lose business.

  • DanDC

    "You know what 14th Street is going to be." - I didn't know what 14th Street was going to be when Whole Foods opened in Logan nearly 15 years ago. Whole Foods was a catalyst and encouraged additional development. I know what H Street is now, and the upwards pull of Whole Foods cannot lift everything on its own.

  • Corky

    Now, all H Street needs is a Johnny Rockets and a Pottery Barn. Georgetown East.

  • Moo

    I sympathize with Englert but, uh, he's absolutely part of the process that led to a Whole Foods going in over there.

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  • Johnny

    Don't joke about Johnny Rockets and Pottery barn, because it's bound to happen.

  • Kes

    I like Pottery Barn! I like Crate & Barrel too. I mean, I can't afford to buy anything there but napkin rings, but they have such a big selection of them! Also, occasionally I can afford to buy napkins to go in the rings. Always a good day.

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  • Gabe

    This is complete bulls###. When I was growing up I worked for a developer doing demolition in the 90's on vacants on H streets. No lie, we used to shovel homeless waste, needles and bodies out of some of the buildings that are now happy store fronts. Anyone who feels "nostalgia" for old H street is a hipster yuppie who thinks life started on H street in 2003. Get the f### over yourself, the point of progress is to move forwards.

  • wylie coyote

    He couldn't seriously have expected H Street to stay in its halfway finished state forever. Loads of development was scheduled even before the WF signed a lease. Now, it will be in hyperdrive. Too bad we couldn't lock in that Trader Joe's.

    That huge stretch of Benning Rd from the Starburst to Oklahoma just has Safeway and Aldi for groceries. Adding WF to the mix now that there are several major residential projects planned to go on H Street proper makes perfect sense. NOMA is booming and only has one grocery store in its hood (HT). The spacing between the stores feels about right, also WF and Giant offer different enough product for them to co-exist within a few blocks of one another.

  • DatDudeDoe

    Does anyone know what Englert's beef with the word "diverse" is? Is it just another hipster affectation? Help me out here.

  • Hill Resident

    I'm sure the "rough" elements of H Street he is going to miss would have no problem coming to his house to visit...and then harass and rob him. For old times sakes.

    What's disappointing is that it's going to be 3 years before WF is ready.

  • Avenue1212

    I'm more interested in what the shoppers of Murrys think about Whole Foods moving in rather than the guy who closed one of best bars on H St. to turn it into a fancy Italian joint.