Fry up the liver and onions: Sholl's Colonial Cafeteria is saved.
And to celebrate, you know what Evelyn Johnson orders. "It's the only place you can get liver and onions," she says, pushing her tray down the food line, past the familiar sign that announces: "Religion and patriotism make this a nice place to work."
The fact that this wholesome, quaint and unsophisticated refuge persists on the ground floor of a sleek glass office box at the corner of K and 20th streets NW, smack in the K Street canyon of glass office boxes with their chic ground-floor eateries--well, that's the weird thing.
And it's why Johnson, a legal secretary in the canyon, and maybe a hundred other patrons were at Sholl's yesterday for lunch, cheering and shouting out their favorite dishes.
At the height of lunch hour, at a little table posted at the end of the line of people with their trays, George Fleishell, Sholl's co-owner, inked a new lease on life for the cafeteria, and the people cheered some more. Four television stations, including one based in Tokyo, recorded the moment.
By the time you reach the cashier at Sholl's your tray has at least four or five white porcelain plates--one for the meat, one for the potato, one for the vegetable, one for the roll and one for the homemade pie. And a glass of iced tea.
Johnson's bill: $5.23
Six months ago, Fleishell announced that he faced a nearly 25 percent increase in rent--or about $1,000 extra each week--which he said would force him out of business.
The news electrified Sholl's customers, who are normally a placid bunch of office workers, senior citizens, tourists, homeless people and the occasional member of Congress or the D.C. Council--all in search of a bargain and an ample slice of a vanishing world.
The Save Our Sholl's Committee was formed, led by tenant activist and 30-year Sholl's devotee Jim McGrath. The group staged protests, wrote letters, summoned the media. Confronted with a gravy-soaked nostalgia story, the reporters bit, and Sholl's made it onto national television and radio programs.
Meanwhile, nobody could figure out who the landlord was. Fleishell said he thought he paid rent to a partnership of Japanese businessmen. The landlord's local property manager, Cushman & Wakefield, remained mum.
Then yesterday, in a handsome dark suit that was not quite right for the cafeteria, there was Brian Raher, senior director for Cushman & Wakefield. And he was holding an unsigned lease proposal. But he still wouldn't say who the landlord was.
The new lease called for a 7 percent increase in the first year, followed by about a two percent increase each year for the next nine, according to Fleishell.
What originally had been scheduled as a protest rally became a lease-signing celebration.
"We can survive with these numbers," Fleishell said. "It might mean a slight increase in prices."
The 71-year-old nephew of Sholl's founder Evan Sholl was still reeling from the outpouring of support from militant cafeteristas over these scary months. "I got letters and checks from around the world," Fleishell said.
Michael Kirwan, an advocate for homeless people, described how they are welcomed at Sholl's to dine with dignity, using meal tickets funded by Kirwan and Sholl's.
The cafeteria partisans hailed the landlord's concessions as proof of the power of the people.
Raher, the landlord's agent, acknowledged: "George [Fleishell] and his people mounted a good effort on their behalf." But he maintained that with or without the sound and fury, this lease signing "probably" would have taken place anyway.
"We always wanted to keep Sholl's," Raher said. He also said Fleishell's description of the size of the original rent increase proposal was not accurate. "It was just an issue of getting a deal that makes sense," he said.
However it happened, the diners didn't care.
"I was born in D.C., and there's always been a Sholl's," said Victoria Palcho, 59, who now lives in Alexandria. "This is remembrance," she said, cutting into a wedge of homemade carrot cake.