His Simple Business Model: The Ladder

Bo Blair will open The Bullpen across from Nationals Park in Southeast. With $25,000 a month to pay in rent, he won't stick to a guest-list only policy.
Bo Blair will open The Bullpen across from Nationals Park in Southeast. With $25,000 a month to pay in rent, he won't stick to a guest-list only policy. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By Thomas Heath
Sunday, May 17, 2009

I promise this isn't another column about food or drink, although as you know, I'm a bit obsessed with them.

When I interviewed restaurateur/entrepreneur Bo Blair, General Motors came to mind. That is, the General Motors of legend and not today's suffering icon.

Blair targeted and captured Washington's 20-something-to-40-something upscale, urban, college-grad, preppie, money-to-spend demographic much the same way the old GM went after American drivers.

Sound crazy?

GM's "ladder of success" started new buyers on the Chevrolet, then led them to Pontiac or Oldsmobile as they grew older and made more money. In their 50s and 60s, they were encouraged to step up to the higher-end Buick line or, if they really made some dough, drive a Cadillac.

Blair, 36, has something similar for his Georgetown-centric crowd.

His Smith Point is an exclusive (you must be on a list) restaurant/bar that caters to the young, preppie, conservative customer base from schools such as Villanova, Princeton, Duke, Fairfield, Trinity, Virginia or Georgetown.

Blair opened The Rookery bordering Georgetown for the same group in their 30s and 40s, when they start to settle down and relax with some live music. Like Smith Point, if you are not on the Rookery's list, you don't get in.

For the preppies who start a family (Blair counts 120 married couples who met at Smith Point), Blair opened Surfside -- a Tex-Mex restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park -- last fall. Jetties sandwich shop in Foxhall caters to the prep crowd's fast meals.

How about some cookies and cakes for the 4-year-olds destined for Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, UNC or Penn? Blair has a dessert shop called Something Sweet that's coming soon. If you recognize the names, perhaps you are a prospective client; Blair has named many of his ventures after places on Nantucket Island off Massachusetts.

"We really have created a group of restaurants that has been my vision for a while," he said. "Everything feeds off everything else."

This weekend he opened The Bullpen across the street from Nationals Park in Southeast. The $100,000 project -- which includes a $25,000 a month rent bill -- is banking on its novelty and location. He is the first businessman to introduce the concept to the ballpark area, and the location across from the main gate is impossible to miss.


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