Richard Layman’s Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space highlights the revitalization underway in H Street NE. This has become the “IT” place in the city with numerous WaPo articles like “H is for Happening“. The driving force to the revitalization is considered to be the intiative by Joe Englert (CP | Examiner | WBJ | Washingtonian | Chat) of seeding H Street with tavern-entertainment destinations offering pretty good food.
Layman has a few “rules” to successful Restaurant-Based Neighborhood Revitalization:
1. Relatively appealing cuisine that isn’t too specialized (or at the very least is popular such as Asian food); food that is attractive to a large number of people–Italian, Mexican, and “American,” seem to work best. You want at least 100 customers/nite. These days Thai food is moving into this category. Chinese seems to have lost its appeal. Restaurants like Indian, Caribbean, etc. are just a bit too specialized, and therefore don’t get the weekly or at least a couple times/month patronage that such restaurants need especially when they are located in emerging commercial districts.
2. Good food; it doesn’t have to be stunning but it better be good. (Perhaps Mexican restaurants illustrate this point the best.)
3. Good, good plus, or better service; waiting isn’t fun, and neither is dealing with a server that doesn’t help you get what you want with a modicum (ideally none) of problems.
4. Competitively priced; you can’t have drinks at $8 or most of your entrees costing $13-$20 — unless you offer a fully realized concept where those prices make sense. If your prices aren’t competitive and maybe a little less expensive than the market, you won’t get that frequent patronage that is necessary for your success. Pitchers of margaritas or sangria are good, maybe not pitchers of beer, which seem to attract a rowdier more alcohol-centered clientele.
5. Nice interior; it doesn’t have to be stunning or a $1 million interior renovation, but it can’t be threadbare, and it has to be appealing.
Any thoughts on how these rules relates to our Triangle ‘hood? Richard’s Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization apply most closely to transitioning, emerging, and distressed commercial districts. The Triangle is transitioning but overwhelmingly through new construction rather than adopting old structures to new uses. So the rents will be too high to closely follow the path H Street NE has taken to success. I would think rules 2 thru 5 should always apply. I also think rule #1 makes sense for the first restaurant that arrives – which would most likely be in the ground floor space at 455 Mass Ave NW (aka Penzance Building).
The space at the Penzance Building has a great are for outdoor seating on the Mass Ave facing. When built out the Triangle will have the critical mass to support a specialty cuisine restaurant like Indian or Carribean. But I think that’s deferred until K Street’s restaurant row one day arrives. Perhaps Italian, Mexican, Thai, or “American” is the way to go for this first new restaurant. I would also think the choice should should strive to serve the lunch crowd from the GAO and Chester A Arthur office buildings and repeat business from the new condo residents.
Let’s hope the space does end up as a restaurant and not subdivided into another bank and Starbucks. =)