Ray’s: The Steaks at East River opened last year with the kind of fanfare usually reserved for publicly funded football stadiums. A ribbon-cutting ceremony in April 2010 attracted not only D.C. Council members Yvette Alexander and Kwame Brown but also then-Mayor Adrian Fenty and his chief rival for the job, Council Chairman Vincent Gray.
Fenty and Gray practically fought for sound-bite time to praise this full-service, sit-down steakhouse in Ward 7, a neighborhood better known for its fast-food joints and carryouts sealed tight behind bullet-proof glass. Fenty even presented Ray’s owner Michael Landrum with a city proclamation, after which the restaurateur joked: “This is the first time that I got something official that wasn’t a court order.”
Yes, there was a lot of hope and good cheer about what the restaurant meant to Ward 7, both in terms of providing good-quality meals to a D.C. food desert and offering good-quality jobs to a neighborhood with sky-high unemployment. But today — on Food Day, of all possible dates — Ray’s: The Steaks at East River is closed; it officially shut its doors yesterday for renovations. A sign affixed to the windows read, in part, “It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve you over the past year and a half. During this time we have listened to you and discovered the many ways we can serve you better.”
“Please bear with us as we close briefly to reformat and work on making those improvements. We eagerly look forward to seeing you soon after reopening in January 2012.” (See the full statement in a photo after the jump.)
This kind of note, as Landrum himself would surely recognize, is often just a knuckle sandwich delivered in a velvet glove — a way to soften the blow of closing a struggling restaurant. I sought clarification from Landrum this weekend to see if, indeed, he is planning to close Ray’s: The Steaks at East River for good, or if he is truly shuttering for renovations.
His response via phone text: “Not available for comment.”
The note in the window informs customers that, in the meantime, “most, if not all, of your favorite staff members can be found working with the rest of the Ray’s family at one of our other restaurants, receiving advanced training and/or career enrichment opportunities.”
The closing, temporary or not, comes at a time when Landrum has recently opened yet another Arlington operation, Ray’s to the Third, and is scheduled to open his bakery and cafe, RYSE, sometime this fall.
Helder Gil, the leglislative affairs specialist for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, noted that, as of today, Ray’s: The Steaks at East River has not applied for a building permit. The restaurant would not, of course, need such a permit to do minor renovations, such as painting, changing the wall hangings or replacing the furniture.
Gil cautioned that this “doesn’t mean that they won’t” pull permits for the renovation. “If they’re looking to open up in mid-January, that’s realistic that they could do something — get the building permits and do something.”