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Making Deals Where Steaks Are High

(Photos By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Dressed in a light brown suit, Brad Wilson walked into Morton's steakhouse in Tysons Corner and caught a whiff of cigar smoke from the bar, mingled with the unmistakable scent of prime rib from a nearby table. The restaurant was packed with wine-sipping professionals, the chatter punctuated by the clink of dishes from the kitchen.

"Ah, another steakhouse," he said, before shaking hands with acquaintances he recognized at the bar.

Wilson, a computer networking consultant from Fairfax, often spends evenings on the steakhouse circuit to make deals and meet new clients. And the growing number of upscale steak restaurants catering to the high-powered business community in Tysons means he has plenty of places to choose from.

Just as steakhouses in the District have for years attracted politicians and executives, Tysons is developing a reputation as a power-dining destination.

Ten steakhouses attract a sturdy crowd of professionals who conduct business over hunks of beef. Two new steak-serving restaurants have plans to enter the market in the next six months, adding to a scene that local business leaders say reflects Tysons's growing prominence as a big-league business district.

"I think the number of steakhouses really serves as a barometer for the business growth in the area," said Linda Roth, a local public relations consultant who works with hotels and restaurants. "These restaurants wouldn't be here if there weren't business people here to eat at them."

Capital Grille, Clyde's, Flemming's Prime Steakhouse and the Palm Restaurant have other area locations, but the Tysons steakhouses draw a different crowd. Washington restaurants typically cater to politicians, lobbyists and out-of-town officials, but Tysons attracts local entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, information technology consultants and government contractors.

Many restaurateurs say there's plenty of business. Chima Brazilian Steakhouse opened in December on the bottom floor of an office building behind the Tysons Marriott hotel. Ruth's Chris Steak House has plans for a location less than a mile down Leesburg Pike, and Wildfire, a Chicago-based steakhouse chain, plans to open in Tysons Galleria in the fall.

"We're all in the same game," said Fred Coppola, assistant manager of the Tyson's Morton's, which opened in 1990. "The guests frequent all these places."

But the influx of steakhouses in the past few years leaves some owners with the same question: How many steakhouses can the area support?

"Each time one opens, your business drops back a bit," said Jim Wordsworth, who opened J.R.'s Stockyards Inn in 1976. In the past three years, he said, he has seen five steakhouses open within two miles of his restaurant. "The market can only take so much. . . . There will be a leveling off."

One steakhouse has fallen victim to the crowded market. Sam's Essential Grill, which spun out of Sam & Harry's, a well-known steakhouse staple in Tysons before it closed in 2005, shut down last month. That's where Ruth's Chris will open this year. Wordsworth said he can see why Tysons is so attractive to restaurateurs.

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