Two restaurants chosen for District office building

The District government has selected two restaurant operators to open locations in a city office building in the Benning neighborhood of Northeast Washington, in what could serve as a test-run for bringing new food options to the area around St. Elizabeths Hospital.

The D.C. Department of General Services chose the two restaurant operators in December to fill 4,500 square feet in the ground floor of the Minnesota-Benning Government Center, a 232,000-square-foot, five-story office building at 4058 Minnesota Ave. NE that houses the city’s jobs agency, the Department of Employment Services.

The first is Cohn’s Hospitality and Management Academy, a café and job training program founded by restaurateur Paul J. Cohn. Cohn’s company, Capital Restaurant Concepts, is behind J. Paul’s and Georgia Brown’s.

Cohn would open next door to the 1,500-square-foot Eclectic Café, a new restaurant concept from the former owners of East River Bagel, a fixture of Minnesota Avenue until its closing in 2011.

Under Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), the District has targeted retail and hospitality as industries to find opportunities for unemployed residents — particularly in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where unemployment and poverty rates run higher than elsewhere in the city.


Paul Cohn, owner of Georgia Brown's and J.Paul, is to open a restaurant in a District government building. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

If the deals for restaurants in the Minnesota-Benning Government Center are successful, they could provide a blueprint for how the city government might deliver restaurants and retail to areas around St. Elizabeths Hospital, where a new headquarters for the U.S. Coast Guard is being built for 3,700 employees, but where there are few jobs or places to eat lunch.

Cohn’s restaurant would be part culinary and part workforce education. For a year or more he has planned a culinary and hospitality institute that would offer training for District teens interested in learning kitchen management, purchasing, marketing and accounting.

Darrell Pressley, a spokesman for the general services agency, said the culinary institute would fill 3,000 square feet of the building and work closely with the jobs agency to employ District residents.

“In partnership with [the Department of Employment Services], D.C. youth and young adults will be hired to take part in an 18-plus month program where they learn the skills necessary to run a restaurant,” Pressley said in an e-mail.

The agency issued a solicitation for interested restaurateurs in September, 10 months after the building was completed. The Cohn and Eclectic concepts beat out TD Burger Bar, Wise Counsel LLC and PTC, which does business as Roadside Café.

Both selected businesses would have to agree to leases with the city. The solicitation calls for a lease of at least three years at a rate of $20 a square foot or more.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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