After eight years in the neighborhood, Dean Gold is calling it quits in Cleveland Park. The chef and owner behind Dino says he has signed a letter of intent to move his Italian-themed restaurant to Shaw and rebrand it into a smaller, more casual operation. Gold expects to re-emerge in the new space as early as February, in what he hopes will be a financial valentine to himself.
Business at his Cleveland Park restaurant, which Gold opened in 2005, has dropped precipitously, the owner says. As diners have migrated to trendier neighborhoods, whether the 14th Street corridor or H Street NE, Gold figures his revenues have declined by 25 percent compared to last year at this time.
"This June business just fell off. I’m not making enough money to keep Dino open," Gold says. "A lot of restaurants in Cleveland Park ... are complaining about how bad business is.”
Because Gold remains in lease negotiations over the new location, he can't yet name the address, but he says he will be taking over an existing restaurant in Shaw, which will require mostly cosmetic repairs. The biggest project will involve installing an outdoor walk-in cooler, which Gold will need before he starts serving beer on tap. Unless there are surprises in the final lease discussions, Gold has tentatively scheduled to close Dino in January.
The owner has a plan for the Shaw space as construction crews do the necessary work: He expects to host a pop-up version of his rebranded restaurant. It'll be Gold's way to conduct recon in his new neighborhood, with its far different demographics than those in Cleveland Park.
"We’re ultimately going to be a neighborhood restaurant. Ultimately what we’re going to be is going to be determined by the response" of diners, Gold says. "We’re going to be very flexible at the beginning."
At present, Dino's menus break down roughly into thirds, Gold says. They're one-third Italian, one-third dishes with an Italian sensibility and one-third "fun stuff," like the Dino burger. The owner expects the same ratios at the new location, but with a reduction in the overall number of dishes (if not the line of burgers, which he plans to expand with variations such as a "salumi burger"). Likewise, his wine list will be pared down from about 300 selections to 3o to 50; there will be a stronger emphasis on wines by the glass, Gold says.
Along with menu alterations, Gold plans to change names, too. He's debating between two variations on the current handle: either Il Grotto by Dino or Dino's Il Grotto. Gold wants to reserve the Dino name for the future, perhaps for a nearby restaurant that would offer a "three-course, sit-down more formal presentation.”
The rebranded name, Gold adds, reflects the space itself: Part of the first floor sits below ground level, creating a cave-like atmosphere.