Capital Buzz: Dawson’s latest venture offers D.C. a laugh Riot

Get ready for a new comedy club in the District.

Big-time local restaurateur/tavern owner Geoff Dawson, who has hit a few financial home runs with Buffalo Billiards near Dupont Circle and Rocket Bar in downtown Washington, is opening Riot Act this June at Eighth and E streets NW.

Dawson and partners John Xereas and Marjorie Heiss have leased 13,000 square feet in a building managed by Mort Zuckerman's Boston Properties.

“This allows me to do something more challenging,” said Dawson, a Washington native and graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School. “It's way out of my comfort zone and it's a huge investment. But there isn't a person on earth who doesn't like to laugh at themselves or at someone else.”

Dawson said he placed the club in the middle of the burgeoning Penn Quarter, filled with restaurants and a healthy residential population.

The club plans to be open six or seven days a week with major headliners, an open microphone, theme nights and a school of comedy. Riot Act's state-of-the-art showroom will also feature a movie screen, digital recording and broadcast capabilities.

“I'm the local guy who did what every entrepreneur should do -- pursued something he knew and loved, which is bars.”

Charging your car while you shop

MOM's Organic Market has installed two electric car charging units for plug-in automobiles at the company's College Park store, with more to follow at stores in Jessup, Timonium and Merrifield, according to MOM's chief executive Scott Nash.

The installation costs vary, but the College Park bill came in at $8,160.

The units run around $6,000 each, not including shipping, but MOM's received three free units from the Charge Point America Program. The units are made by California-based Coulomb Technologies Inc.

Nash said plug-in drivers can get a 12 to 15 percent charge during an hour-long shopping trip at MOM's.

“We had a Tesla come in a couple weeks ago to use the charger in College Park,” Nash said. “The customer said he was excited. It's the first time he's ever charged anywhere aside from his home.”

The Buzz hears . . .

Latham & Watkins Managing Partner Eric Bernthal stepped down earlier this month after helming the firm's D.C. office for 11 years.

“We have a policy that encourages turnover in management,” said Bernthal, 64, who oversaw expansion of the D.C. office from 125 to nearly 300 attorneys. “I've been doing it longer than anybody, and it's time to give it up to some younger blood.”

He is being succeeded by Alice Fisher, who served as assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division of the Justice Department from 2005 to 2008.

Bernthal will continue to practice corporate and communications law, as well as work on special projects such as overseeing Latham's new Boston office.

D.C.-based ACON Investments private equity firm last week bought out Refac Optical Group, including its U.S. Vision subsidiary, from an affiliate of Palisade Capital Management. U.S. Vision, founded in 1967, operates more 700 full-service retail vision centers under a variety of brands including J.C. Penney, BJ's, Sears, Macy's and Kmart.

Founded in 1996, ACON manages more than $2 billion and is led by Jonathan Ginns and Ken Brotman.

The acquisition fits into ACON's theme of investing in parts of the U.S. economy undergoing structural change: eyewear is growing in volume as the U.S. population ages. ACON also likes businesses that avoid big capital expenditures in real estate.

Living bigger

LivingSocial, the D.C.-based Internet coupon company, is spilling out of its trio of offices in downtown Washington, where the fast-growing company has created an urban campus.

LivingSocial recently leased 42,000 square feet at 1445 New York Ave., where it will move 400 staffers the first week of May, according to sources who were not authorized to comment publicly.

That makes four offices in town, three in the Seventh Street NW corridor and one a few blocks away on New York Avenue.

LivingSocial has 1,500 employees worldwide, including 750 in Washington. The company is headed by Tim O'Shaughnessy, son-in-law of Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham.

The owner of 1445 is Ponte Garde and the building is managed by Cassidy Turley.

Carlyle watch

China, South Africa, the United States, Peru, the United Kingdom. Sound like a World Cup lineup?

Nope. It's where the Carlyle Group announced deals in the past two weeks.

It started with the sale of JMC Steel, an Ohio-based steel pipe-and-tube company that Carlyle has owned since 2007. The deal made Carlyle more than three times the money it invested. Not bad for a bet on a Rust Belt manufacturer.

Last week the private equity giant put down its flag in Sub-Saharan Africa, expanding its presence in emerging markets, where the firm now has $16.6 billion in assets under management.

In between, the firm squeezed in a partnership with Credicorp, the largest bank in Peru; committed to buy $5 billion worth of ships and lease them to Chinese companies; and purchased the Foundry, a U.K. special effects company that helped create the blockbuster movie “Avatar.”

Why so busy? Chief Investment Officer William E. Conway Jr. recently told his senior staff that with debt cheap and available, now is a good time to deploy capital.

Stay tuned.

 
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