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Move by Ray's the Steaks proprietor demonstrates faith in a community

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Ray's: The Steaks at East River opens with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) joining eccentric restaurateur Michael Landrum to unveil his latest addition. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) is also on hand. The new restaurant will be Ward 7's second big-name, sit-down establishment. Denny's will finally get some company.

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By Petula Dvorak
Friday, April 9, 2010

On the west side of the strip-mall-style building on Dix Street NE, you can order a Triple Meat pizza.

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You might have to repeat the order several times, because the bulletproof window separating the Pizza Hut guy from you is thicker than a deep-dish crust, so it's hard to talk through.

And that's just demoralizing and insulting, implying to the residents of Ward 7 every day that violence is anticipated at every turn.

Who can live like that?

On the east side of that same building, dining will be very different in a few days. You'll be able to sit down, which is something very few places on this side of the District will allow a diner to do. You'll be able to spread a cloth napkin over your lap and drink wine from a stemmed glass.

Your server will wear a dapper, bluish-gray vest, and you can discuss the menu with him face to face. Nothing bulletproof here.

It's a big change for this neighborhood, the opening of a restaurant so completely different from the carryout culture that has dominated every other street corner for years.

And it's a move fraught with mixed emotions.

During the fancy ribbon-cutting ceremony for Ray's the Steaks this week, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), a few D.C. Council members and lots of people in sharp suits talked about the sirloin and the joy of having a foodie hot spot right off Minnesota Avenue. They vowed that they'd be regulars.

Restaurateur Michael "Ray" Landrum, who has a string of places that play on the clever take on his nickname -- Ray's the Classics in Silver Spring and Ray's Hell-Burger in Arlington, and so on -- has fed many Washingtonians, even President Obama. But he hadn't brought his business into the District.

"It's high time that I did get around to opening a restaurant in the District," Landrum said, and thanked the community that "allowed me to take this kind of risk."

But throughout the ribbon-cutting and the speeches and the photo ops, people walking by let everyone know they weren't giddy because high-end steak is close to home. They aren't looking for a place to dine, but in a city ward where unemployment is almost 20 percent -- noticeably higher than the District's 12.1 percent average -- they were simply looking for work.


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