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Opinion Dear landlords: Without your help, D.C.’s restaurants and bars will close forever

Faris Albakheet, director of operations for Busboys and Poets, sets up patio seating at the restaurant's 14th Street location on May 27 in Washington. (Amanda Voisard/for The Washington Post)

Simone Jacobson, the co-owner of Thamee, and Derek Brown, the president of Drink Company, are the organizers of this open letter.

Dear Landlords,

Hospitality has never been easy.

As owners of independent restaurants and bars, we’ve always been cautious but optimistic. We risked a lot to bring communities together around a hot meal or a well-made drink. To achieve our dream, we relied on our partnerships with you, our landlords, to be both long-term and mutually beneficial.

And to a point they were.

For more than a decade, business in Washington has been booming, led in part by growth in the bar and restaurant industry. From 2008 to 2016, the city saw a 77 percent increase in bar licenses and a 37 percent increase in restaurant licenses. We collectively added an estimated $13.9 billion in taxable retail and restaurant sales in 2016. Bon Appétit named D.C. the “Restaurant City of the Year” in 2016, and there are now 18 Michelin-starred restaurants here, along with some of the most recognized bars in the country, helping boost tourism.

Money isn’t all we contribute to the city. We run the places where Washingtonians meet, work, celebrate and play. We contribute to community-based food halls, business incubators, restaurants focused on fair and sustainable local food systems, job development, and strides in diversity and equity in the workplace.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

But covid-19 has threatened to end our successful partnerships with our landlords.

None of us could have predicted that on Monday, March 16, we would be shut down by the mayor because of a global pandemic. Thankfully, some of our landlords were quick to understand that this emergency would cause not only immediate but also long-term impact, not simply on our business, but on theirs. To those who offered relief in the form of rent abatement or cancellation, we extend our eternal gratitude.

Yet even though conditions under which we opened our businesses and made our lease agreements no longer exist, some landlords still expected us to pay the rent as if it were business as usual.

Many of us are surviving on a sliver of our previous sales, if we have any sales at all. If, and when, we do reopen, we will be facing a loss of consumer confidence and enforced spacing restrictions because of social distancing measures.

We understand why 41 percent of our customers said they would not come back to restaurants and bars right away, because reopening is as scary for us as it is for them. As operators, we are ready to go to extraordinary lengths to make our guests and staff safe, but that will come at a cost to us, too. The smallest among us — women, people of color, immigrants, first-time and single-location operators, and other marginalized people — cannot shoulder that cost in addition to fixed rents from a pre-coronavirus world. With less revenue and additional costs to keep our guests and staff safe, our business models will change in unprecedented ways.

The D.C. restaurant Little Sesame could have closed because of coronavirus but is using its kitchen to serve the city's most vulnerable instead. (Video: Shane Alcock/The Washington Post)

The boom is over, and it does not appear to be coming back soon. If hospitality was hard before, it’s nearly impossible now.

Even before the pandemic, bars and restaurants already operated with frighteningly thin margins. Creating an alternative model where the margins are even thinner, or nonexistent, is not an option without sharing financial pain.

If we do not receive some rent relief soon, landlords’ alternatives won’t be other tenants paying boom-time rents: It may well be no restaurant and bar tenants at all. Nobody wins if D.C. storefronts are left empty and our once passionate and thrilling bar and restaurant scene is no more.

We need commercial tenants and landlords to act like the partners we signed on to be for each other. A shared rent program for truly independent bars and restaurants based not on fixed amounts but on rent calculated as a percentage of total operating costs could be a vital bridge to our new normal. Eliminating “kick-out clauses” or personal guarantees that would make our businesses subject to the highest bidder or take our personal property would also be a gesture of good faith.

Together, we can sustain this city and our vital hospitality industry. But we need landlords to understand that each one of us must take our fair share of the burden. Otherwise, our city’s independent restaurants and bars risk closing forever, leaving a social, cultural and tourism void in the District.

Help us get to the other side of this crisis by keeping us in our restaurant homes, and we will happily reserve a seat at our tables for you.


Adam Greenberg and Emily Cipes, Coconut Club

Al Goldberg, Mess Hall

Amy Brandwein, Centrolina and Piccolina

Andy Shallal, Busboys and Poets

Anwar Saleem, H St Main Street

Ariel Pasternak, Pineapple Collaborative

Ashish Alfred, Duck Duck Goose

Bobby Pradachith and Seng Luangrath, Padaek, Thip Khao, Sen Khao and Hanumanh

Brent Kroll, Maxwell Park

Cameron Raspet, Red Bear Brewing

Chad Drummond, Please Bring Chips

Chipp Sandground, Central Michel Richard

Constantine Stavropoulos, the Tryst Trading Company

Daniella Senior, Colada Shop, Serenata, Zumo

Dante Datta, Daru

Dave Wiseman, Nick Wiseman and Ronen Tenne, Little Sesame

Derek Brown, Columbia Room

Dina Daniel, Fava Pot

Donna Henry, Soup Up LLC

Gabriela Febres and Ali Arellano, Arepa Zone

Greg Algie and Nathan Beauchamp, Blagden Hospitality Group

Jamie Leeds, Hank’s Oyster Bar

Jill Tyler, William Jensen, and Jon Sybert, Tail Up Goat & Reveler’s Hour

José Andrés and Rob Wilder, ThinkFoodGroup

Josh Phillips, Espita

Josh Saltzman, Ivy & Coney

Katsuya Fukushima, Yama Jewayni, Daisuke Utagawa, Daikaya Group

Kaz Okochi, KAZ Sushi Bistro

Kevin Tien, Emilie’s and Hot Lola’s

Khalid Pitts and Diane Gross, Cork Wine Bar & Market

Kim Bryden, Cureate and Cureate Connect

Latino Economic Development Center

Mandy and Joe Neuman, Sloppy Mama’s BBQ

Marla Bilonick, Latino Economic Development Center

Matt and Lindsay Baker, Gravitas

Michael Babin, Neighborhood Restaurant Group

Mike Lenard, TaKorean

Nizam Ali, Ben’s Chili Bowl, Ben’s Next Door

Paolo Sacco, Massimo Fabbri, and Fabio Trabocchi Group

Patrice Cleary, Purple Patch

The Popals, Lapis, Lapop, The Berliner, and Café Bonaparte / Lutèce

Rachel Fitz, ANXO

Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman, RASA

Raj Aggarwal, Think Local First

Rock Harper, RockSolid Creative Food Group, LLC

Rose Previte, Maydan, Compass Rose

Saied Azali, Perry’s

Sebastian Zutant, Primrose

Shannan Troncoso, Brookland’s Finest Bar & Kitchen

Simone Jacobson and Eric Wang, Thamee

Sofia Grace, Soussi Restaurant

Soophia Hussain, Cusbah

Tara Smith and Demetri Mechelis, Martha Dear

Toyin Alli, Puddin’ LLC

Victoria Lai, Ice Cream Jubilee

Violeta Edelman and Robb Duncan, Dolcezza Gelato

Coronavirus news in D.C., Virginia and Maryland

The latest: More than two years into the pandemic, covid cases in the D.C. region are rising again, , while liberal Montgomery County asks who deserves credit for its robust covid response. Meanwhile, Black funeral directors still face a daunting amount of deaths from covid and the omicron wave has had an unequal toll in the DMV.

At-home tests: Here’s how to use at-home covid tests, where to find them and how they differ from PCR tests.

Mapping the spread: Tens of thousands have died in the local region and nationwide cases number in the hundreds of thousands.

Omicron: Remaining covid restrictions in the D.C.-area, plus a breakdown of variant symptoms and mask recommendations.

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