If nothing else, Jeff Black wants to make sure I pass along one comment, straight-up and unequivocal: The city of Takoma Park has had nothing to do with the delays that have plagued Republic, his forthcoming restaurant in the progressive, neo-hippie suburb on the northeast border of the District.
"I'd like to go on the record as saying this: Everybody blames Takoma Park for our delays. Takoma Park has been nothing but stellar, A-plus all the way," said Black, the restaurateur behind BlackSalt, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black's Bar & Kitchen.
"Every time we're behind, people go, 'Ahh, that's Takoma Park.' It's not Takoma Park," Black continued. "It's me. It's my contractor. It's my architects. It's my building."
Built inside the shell of two former Takoma Park businesses — the Summer Delights ice cream parlor and the Video Americain store — Republic is a joint project by Black and his longtime chef, Danny Wells, who's a partner in the restaurant. Wells, a native of Takoma Park, and Black got a quick lesson on why some restaurateurs have likely shied away from this section of the city.
Hint: It has nothing to do with the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its once-iron grip on the flow of alcohol in the 'burb.
No, it's the building that the 100-plus seat Republic will call home. It's old. It's outdated. It's partly built with what Black calls "soft blocks," which were apparently used by builders on the cheap in the 1930s and 1940s. "The building's not strong enough to take all the air conditioning on the roof, so we had to build this steel frame out here and put all the units on it," Black said. "The whole second floor is soft blocks, so you can't have any weight on the roof."
Those units include not just air conditioners, but also compressors for various pieces of kitchen equipment. Black even had to build a rail around the outdoor platform to conform to local codes.
"This is my own little money pit," Black said. "This is where a lot of time and money" have been spent.
So how much did Black spend on the whole platform and equipment?
The restaurateur takes a long pause.
"A lot," he responded. "Think of a big number, double it and you're still too low."
These delays, among others, have pushed Republic's opening past its projected debut in September or October.
Once completed, Republic should become Takoma Park's lone destination restaurant. To cater to the community, Black and Wells have planned a menu that will be heavy on seafood, but with enough vegetarian and vegan options to appease the granola eaters. Brett Robison, a former Wall Street analyst-turned beer geek (last seen at Tryst), will oversee the beverage program. A few cocktails have apparently been concocted already, including ones with names such as Fascist Killer and Free & Sovereign.
Robison is also planning, according to a spokeswoman, a "robust coffee program."
So when will Republic open after all these delays? That's still up in the air. Apparently Black, Wells and company have encountered another potential delay: Washington Gas needs to visit the site and determine if there is enough gas to support the operation. A determination should come this week. As for now, the owners are aiming for a late fall opening.
That's the best time frame they can offer for now.
Republic, 6939 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park, should open in late fall.