Dan Simons admits that Montgomery County gave him pause when the Farmers Restaurant Group was considering where to put a second location of Founding Farmers. With its laborious permitting process, hefty fees and byzantine alcohol-distribution system, the county doesn’t exactly make it easy for new restaurants to open.
“I think we’ve probably had to spend a bit more money and expend a bit more energy to clear certain hurdles,” says Simons, an owner in Potomac’s Founding Farmers, which is expected to open in late October in the Park Potomac development just off I-270 at Montrose Road.
“It’s not fundamentally easy here in Montgomery County,” Simons continues, “but I believe the guest is going to reward us.”
Those potential guests are the reason that Simons and the Farmers Restaurant Group decided to open a space in Potomac. They’re not only the right demographic — well-educated and well-heeled — but also located in the right market for a restaurant group hoping to break the chokehold of chain restaurants in Rockville and environs.
“When I look at the restaurants up the 270 corridor,” Simons says, “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for a concept like ours to draw a lot of people and give them something that you might generally only find downtown.”
Potomac’s Founding Farmers will be slightly smaller than the original on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, which is about 8,500 square feet and seats about 260 people, Simons notes. The Potomac location will be 8,100 square feet and will seat about 240 diners — at least until spring 2012, when the Maryland restaurant will open an outdoor patio expected to add another 80 seats.
The menu, however, is expected to expand from the one in downtown Washington, Simons says, even though only about 65 percent of the dishes will be the same as those at the original restaurant. Part of the expansion is due to a custom-made, high-heat, gas-and-fire oven that will be installed in the Potomac kitchen. It will turn out several different roast chickens, not to mention a pork dish and possibly even a fish baked in salt blocks.
“The whole block will go straight into the oven, and we’ll probably bring the block tableside and serve the fish off of it,” the owner says.
Management plans to move executive chef Rob Ross from the downtown location to the Potomac restaurant, where he will oversee the kitchen staff. Ross has been collaborating with Farmers Restaurant Group’s corporate chef Joseph Goetze, partner Michael Vucurevich and Simon himself on the Potomac menu. Among other changes will an “Afternoon Social” menu, with tea sandwiches, scones, cocktails and sweets to appease folks looking for mid-afternoon bites, as well as extra dishes on the “Simple Plates” section of the original downtown menu. The idea is to appeal to the light eater.
“We designed Founding Farmers to be very female friendly,” Simons says. “It’s a little counterintuitive because you think of this Americana food maybe as a bit heavier. But you can really find...some light items, but I’ve made that even more of a focus for Potomac because I think we’ll get even more of that crowd that’s sensitive to calories.”
In its press materials, Potomac’s Founding Farmers is downplaying its connection to Maryland farms until the spring season, when the restaurant is expected to start sourcing ingredients from local farmers. In 2009, Jane Black wrote a story about the questionable sourcing of some of the original Founding Farmers’s menu items.
The Potomac space will be designed by the same team, CORE architecture + design, that created the downtown Founding Farmers, Simons says. Like its sibling, the Potomac space will eventually be LEED certified, signifying that the structure meets strict environmental standards. But Simons warns that the goal is not to replicate the original downtown structure, reclaimed wood plank by reclaimed wood plank.
“Our goal is that it looks and feels like a sibling,” Simons notes. “I want you to walk in and recognize it. But they’re not twins. They’re closer than cousins, but they’re not twins.”