NE D.C. in midst of a restaurant renaissance
By Danielle Douglas,
There are five take-out joints, but only one place where you can sit down for a meal in the Woodridge section of Ward 5 in the northeast corner of the District.
That establishment, Lace On the Avenue, sits at 2214 Rhode Island Ave. NE along the main retail artery of the neighborhood. But owner Linda McAllister said the dearth of dining and shopping attractions on the avenue makes generating foot traffic challenging.
“It’s a lovely neighborhood,” said McAllister, who opened Lace in November 2008. “But when you look around for stores or places to eat, there aren’t many options.”
Things are changing.
Just a few doors down from Lace, two eateries are scheduled to open this summer: D.C. Chocolate Bar & Bakery and Oliver Friendly’s Eat & Smile. They are a part of a small but growing group of restaurants that will soon call Ward 5 home. Merchants hope their arrival will further a transformation already under way, and provide the kind of synergy that turns retail deserts into destinations.
Comprised of 19 neighborhoods, including Bloomingdale, Eckington and Trinidad, Ward 5 has a mishmash of delis, fast-food joints and liquor stores. Places such as Colonel Brooks’ Tavern in Brookland have deep roots in these communities. But they are few and far between.
Ward 5 boasts the largest amount of retail development in the District, with 1.5 million square feet in the works, according to the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership. Yet most of that pipeline is filled with big-box stores such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Save-A-Lot.
Restaurateurs, nonetheless, may find opportunities in the development projects anchored by these stores. Trammel Crow’s Shops at Dakota Crossing, for instance, has multiple retail spaces available for eateries in the 430,000-square-foot shopping center in Fort Lincoln.
Rent vs. buy
Retail broker Lonna Hooks of Keller Williams Capital Properties said restaurateurs do not have to wait for a development. She noted that there are dozens of vacant retail spaces peppered throughout Ward 5 that can be leased for $15 to $35 a square foot, depending on the neighborhood and condition of the property.
Trouble is some of these spaces are small and in need of renovation.
“There are some spaces that need a lot of work, and landlords are waiting for the right tenant,” she said.
There are merchants who have bypassed the leasing route and purchased their stores. McAllister, for instance, bought the building that houses Lace for $400,000 figuring that if the business didn’t pan out, she would still have an asset. Her soon-to-be neighbors Larry and Tahiti McNair of D.C. Chocolate Bar paid $350,000 for 2026-2028 Rhode Island Ave. NE.
“The owner was really adamant about selling the property, which used to be a strip club. It seemed like a good investment,” Tahiti McNair said. She and her husband, who has run a dentist practice in Woodridge for 27 years, are aiming for a July opening of the 25-seat bakery and sandwich shop.
West of Woodridge in Bloomingdale lies a thriving cluster of bars and bistros. One entrepreneur who recognized the potential early on is Diton Pashaj, owner of Rustik Tavern at 84 T St. NW. Opened in September 2010, the brick-oven pizza parlor was Bloomingdale’s first sit-down restaurant to serve alcohol in decades. It joined popular hipster hang out Big Bear Cafe, a coffeehouse opened in 2007, in creating a fertile ground for other establishments. Now, coffeehouse Showtime Lounge as well as bed and breakfast Little Inn are scheduled to open before the end of the year.
“No one knew how the neighborhood would embrace the changes,” Pashaj said, during a retail bus tour of Ward 5, hosted last week by the Economic Partnership. “But it’s been a phenomenal experience watching the transformation.”
A year after Rustik’s debut, Gareth Croke and Colin McDonough made their contribution to the scene with Boundary Stone on 116 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Croke, who has lived in Bloomingdale for nine years, was bent on fulfilling his dream of owning a tavern in the same neighborhood he called home.
“There is a lot of pride in this neighborhood,” he said. Some members of the community protested Croke and McDonough’s license out of concern about noise and trash. “People were nervous about change, but we were always honest and upfront about our intentions. Those same neighbors that protested our license are now regulars.”