This is very preliminary, but this morning I met with the owners of a renowned Paris 3-star restaurant. They want to open in Washington, and have been here for a week eating at all the top rated spots and visiting available real estate. We sat for an hour or more to discuss the in's and out's of owning a restaurant in Washington. It was a pleasure to give them what I hope was good advice. We took a moment, too, to remember Michel Richard, who died this morning. Telling the story of Citronelle was a good opening to our conversation.
They have a name realtor, and that's good, but I said be careful that they aren't hustled into a space without first learning something about the neighborhood. They mentioned a location that is at the top of their list. I suggested they should come back on different days, at the luncheon hour and the dinner hour, to observe the people on the street -- are they walking with their heads down, looking at a device, or are they looking around for a place to go for a fine dinner and wine, to perhaps sit on a terrace to talk with a friend.
What's the area like on a weekend, for example? At the moment, though, they don't plan to open on the weekend. Still, I suggested they go to the other restaurants in the vicinity, and I named a representative 4-5. Who are the clientele? Also visit the neighborhoods of their top three locations, especially sites with downtown addresses. Depending on the neighborhood, lunch can be big, and dinner less so.
I recommended some developers and set up introductions. I recommended some properties where I believe the landlords are restaurant-friendly.
We talked parking, about proximity to Metro, the ebb and flow of the city based on the Congressional calendar, and who knows if the next occupant of the White House will be as generously supportive of restaurants as President Obama. He's been a gift. We talked critics and guides and suppliers. The reservation/no reservation, waiting on line trends. We discussed the city bureaucracy, which requires varsity levels of calm and resolve, and the vagaries of obtaining a liquor license. They brought up the large portions served at DC restaurants. "Welcome to America," I said. Though, in truth, just last night I dined at The Grill Room and the portions were reasonable.
Georgetown was my top recommendation, because I still believe it is Washington's best restaurant neighborhood, but explained that Georgetown notoriously presents high hurdles for a restaurateur, and that navigating Georgetown can take extra time and patience. The landlords, at least some, are not interested in entrepreneurs and the citizen boards are strict on just about everything -- and yet, if you get open, the community is hugely supportive. Georgetown can be a great spot for a great restaurant. I also praised some of the food-centric neighborhoods -- such as Shaw, Petworth, H Street, Barracks Row -- where restauranteurs are welcomed, or so it seems.
They are returning to Paris with lots of thoughts and ideas, and some early research accomplished, and with the hope to sign a lease in April or May. They will be back to do more looking around. If this were to happen, it would be a big plus for the DC food scene, and coincide beautifully with Michelin launching its first Washington guide this fall.
I wish I could say more about them, but they aren't seeking any public face right now. Lovely to talk with them, though, and OMG the photos on a cell of their food and menu, I wanted to hop the first jet to Paris. The praise for their place online is quite impressive in a city of impressive praise for fine food.