**FILE PHOTO** (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
**FILE PHOTO** (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

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Food deserts are real. With four quadrants and over 700,000 residents, where do folks frequently convene for a sit-down meal? Do they dine at eateries in Penn Quarter, on H Street NE, at the Wharf, or in Eastern Market? Though there are several high-volume corridors and recently emerging community restaurants, some argue the city still has an underwhelming selection of sit-down dining experiences, outside of its notable corridors.

What this means is that District residents must either travel to these corridors, or face carry-outs, fast food, or quick-serve options. That withstanding, there are a few neighborhoods where the restaurant industry has thrived organically in creating sit-down experiences. 

Some residents and restaurateurs note neighborhoods such as Mount Pleasant, 11th Street Northwest, and Pennsylvania Avenue (near Potomac Ave Metro Station) have done a terrific job of incorporating new concepts, with favorable responses from the community. 

However, just across the bridge, off of 295, Pennsylvania Avenue struggles, where it intersects with Minnesota Avenue. Despite the stretch of retail storefronts, there are no sit-down restaurants with table service. Many neighborhoods East of the River, Southwest, and far Northeast suffer from this predicament.

For years, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, in Anacostia, only had Busboys and Poets. That is, until recently with the opening of such establishments as D.C. Smokehouse and Kitchen Savages on Good Hope Road SE. If the District is to create equal food access for all residents, then the question becomes: Why don’t more restaurants take risks in neighborhoods and help further communities?

The Informer spoke with local restaurant consultant, Ty Pate. Pate is working on helping to fabricate a new sit-down concept called Cafe Poulet. Located in the heart of the District’s burgeoning Congress Heights neighborhood, Cafe Poulet will be the second notable sit-down eatery, after Georgina’s.

Pate shared that foot traffic and parking significantly improve the odds for restaurants’ success. 

“Typically guests are going to come from high-density developments or large government institutions,” Pate said. The restaurant aficionado went on to explain that part of some restaurants’ success in Navy Yard, like Chloe and District Winery, can be attributed to their proximity to the Department of Transportation and nearby Metro Station. Pate is implementing this same concept mere steps away from the Congress Heights Metro Station and St. Elizabeth’s Campus.

Other restaurateurs attribute success to operating in community restaurants, post-COVID. 

“As a result of the pandemic, the uptick of community restaurants are more prevalent than ever,”  Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) CEO Shawn Townsend explained. 

The restaurant executive went on to share that operators have become more strategic, leveraging D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s signature Food Access Fund grant, and Building Acquisition Fund dollars, to acquire space in up-and-coming areas. 

Townsend explained that he predicts the most strategic operators will bridge the Mayor’s Comeback Plan, to revitalize downtown, and the idea of creating more neighborhood restaurants. 

“Operators are thinking nontraditional when thinking about a target area for their business,” Townsend told The Informer.

Despite the arguments for downtown revitalization, COVID-19 changed the landscape of D.C. hospitality. District residents are split between a newfound appreciation for cozy neighborhood restaurants and a desire for the revitalization for downtown. What’s unknown is whether restaurants will refocus around office building conversions and in-person workers, or whether more companies will embrace remote work and the community restaurant industry will grow. 

The mayor has committed to significant investments through her Comeback Plan and economic development programs for D.C.’s restaurants to thrive. 

Should restaurateurs continue to adopt their non-traditional investments, which neighborhoods will flourish and how will diners adapt?

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