Piecemeal

It isn’t Matchbox, or Blue & Orange, or any other single establishment.
It’s all of them – and more – together.

Once you meet him, it’s hard not to like Raynold Mendizabal. The chef-owner of the Black and Orange burger joint talks warmly of growing up in Havana, his abiding love for American food like hot dogs and hamburgers, and his desire to bring the kind of casual eatery he loved in Cuba (“not the fancy kind where you go for a birthday,”) to DC. A place of burgers – hand ground in Kansas – and fries and a couple beers and that’s about it. His son sitting next to him at the ANC meeting, it’s like seeing a young Raynold, dreaming of opening his first place.

Mendizabal & his attorney, Ely Hurwitz, where there to meet with some concerned local residents about their planned establishment – what it would be, how late it would serve, who they’re all about. They talked with pride about their indoor garbage room, keeping all the greasetraps and bins off the streets. They detailed the nine types of burgers – one special and only available at U Street – and four or so types of beers they’d have; no table service, and no glass – everything plastic or paper for both noise and environmental reasons. Locally sourced veggies & wine. The pitchers of mojitos? Well, everything has to come from somewhere.

B&O wants to be your late-night / early-morning burger joint. Their proposal has their 79-occupancy establishment open at 11am and closing at 5am.  Yes, am…hours after everyone else (except McDonalds) has closed. Do they want alcohol service available all those hours? “We can negotiate that,” said Mendizabal. Asked whether they could also limit their operating hours so they don’t turn into the post-bar, stumble-burger-n-beer joint (we didn’t say it that way, we’ve got manners!) Medizabal again said he was open to negotiating liquor hours – agitating Hurwitz, who twice tried to interrupt Mendizabal. It was clear what was upsetting wasn’t talk of alcohol service, but any effort to limit food service hours.  “That’s enough of that; next question please,” Hurwitz said, hand slapping the table.

Residents did learn a few things. B&O also has a proposal for a patio area serving upward of 40 – a number both Hurwitz and the committee chair Charles Meisch said was a top-heavy estimate, but one it seemed everyone was more willing to work out than slow down. Parking, for employees or patrons? Not a mention. Toward the end, Hurwitz invited all concerned residents on a pre-open tour — I’ll be contacting Mr. Hurwitz’ office today to set up a day and time.

Orange & Brown hopes to open “…before January 1,” said a wishful Mendizabal. Probably without beer, but most likely they will be opening soon. The larger ANC will discuss their alcohol agreements.

So, nice guy owner, wants to create a “genuine neighborhood place where we know your name,” open to limiting alcohol sales, moving his trash off the street and using paper to prevent crashing glass recycling.  What’s not to like?

Very little in this case. Just like other cases: Matchbox, Level-2, Utopia, on and on. Taken individually, it’s hard to fight too strongly against any one of these new projects exactly because inidividually they’re not that big. A New Black & Orange? The community isn’t going to collapse. A new Matchbox? We”ll, it’s just one restaurant, and my friends like it.

We’re always looking at the tree, which by itself seems largely OK. It’s when you realize you’re in a forest, however, that you quickly become lost.

Our neighbornood is experienting a major problem; one that has deviled other neighborhoods here and there, before generally ruining them and moving on. Developers, particularly of entertainment establishments, find a hot hood a swoop down, cramming in a new bar, restaurant, night club or other establishment in every available crack. Concerned residents are overwhelmed – it’s enough trying to fight one proposal, let alone 10, 15 or more. Developers get paid to sift through the byzantine approval process that allows them to open: residents barely have time to walk the dog, cook dinner, hit the gym, and try and chat up a neighbor about any particular development proposal before collapsing. It comes in a flood – all perfectly ‘legal’ but totally unethical in the way it railroads well-intentioned residents.

Not visible: the hundreds of bottles and food bags on the street every weekend.

Ideas for smarter, slower, sustainable growth are chewed up while the building explosion train rolls merrily on.

And then come the self-righteous critics.

Why do you hate Matchbox?’ asks one, willfully ignorant of that’s happening. You try to explain “Nobody hates Matchbox, it’s just that…” ‘NIMBY!” they scream. Civic dialogue dies. Concerns about Level 2′s proposed development at 14 and Wallach? ‘Why don’t you move out of the city if you hate it so much?’ asks another Einstein. ‘Stop picking on Black and Orange, bully!’ tries another, attempting to distract from the real discussion.

The real discussion is this: local residents have concerns that transcend individual proposals. The 14th & U Street area is unique in Washington right now, but a tidal wave of developers – piece by piece – are trying to turn it into something else. “This isn’t Adams Morgan” said two people after Tuesday’s meeting.

No, it isn’t, yet. And on behalf of the residents who actually live there and do not want to move, we don’t want it to become one, either. There is no shortage of establishments in DC. The Metro area will not suffer if one small neighborhood tries to build something of a levee before it’s swallowed by the rising tide.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Piecemeal

  1. Gumpper

    Guess what? When you move to not one, but two commercial corridors (U Street and 14th Street), you are going to get stores, and restaurants, and bars. You can’t move next to the airport and then complain about the planes.

    • Doug

      Wow, Gumpper, you must be blind. I’m sorry to learn that. Let me spell it out for you: I moved here before any of these trendy businesses were here. You are off your rocker, but I wish you a grasp on sanity in the year to come.

      • Gumpper

        Really, Doug, you are that ignorant of the urban fabric around you? U Street and 14th Street have been major commercial corridors in DC since the early 1900s, interrupted only for a period following the 1968 riots. Sure, the quality of the commercial establishments is improving, but commerce has always dominated the two streets. And, unfortunately, it is NIMBYs like you that are going to turn this area into another Clarendon, but resisting anything that does not fit within your narrow little box of what is appropriate. Perhaps its time for you to pack up and move to hermetically sealed G’town.

        • Doug

          Again, your sweep of history is breath-taking. First, for most of its healthy years, this area wasn’t nightclubs nightclubs nightclubs. Look at the old photos – sure there were a few well known clubs, largely for black audiences, making this a go-to destination. But there was everything else a neighborhood needs, too; and there certainly weren’t as many dining and drinking establishments then as now. And referring to “interrupted for a period” is about the closest thing to racist as I can imagine. Why not ask the few people still on Wallach who grew up here during that “brief interruption” what it was like? It was not interrupted, it was broken. And it was not “a period”, but decades.

    • localguy

      Really Gumper, we are getting stores? I only see late night bars and restaurants masquerading as bars moving in. Let’s see, Rough and Ready replaced by a restaurant (but not a late night one), dollar store replaced by a late night burger place with alcohol, theater site replaced by a Matchbox (again with alcohol…see a pattern here?) that is open hours later than any of their other profitable establishments. Oh yeah, we did get a store, a Room and Board, for which we are grateful. But during the negotiations for what would be in that spot, local residents were branded as NIMBYs and lambasted by people like you for pushing for retail instead of for the other odd combination alternative….a 24 hour restaurant with alcohol, a late night comedy club with alcohol, and a yoga studio. I’d like to see the city and the ANC stop rolling out the carpet for businesses that are open at 3 am and start really trying to attract businesses that are open at 3 pm.

      • The local government can’t change the broader trends in retail.

        There’s a reason brick and mortar retail stores selling dry goods aren’t around as much anymore – you ever use Amazon? For that reason, brick and mortar retail tends to be convenience-oriented (think CVS) or very high-end (think Room and Board).

        Nobody orders lunch via Amazon. Nobody puts in an online order in order to get a beer at the corner pub, either.

        • localguy

          I agree, local government can’t change the broader trends in retail, but there is plenty it can do to help develop a neighborhood in a balanced way. I don’t see that happening here. Instead, I see the DC government doing all it can to bring Walmart to the city.
          And yes, I have used Amazon, but I always shop locally first, and encourage others to do the same.

          • What has DC done to lure Walmart to the city? Walmart seems to be following the same procedures that any other business would follow, and I don’t recall any discussion of incentives.

            Walmart is also a great example of the broader trends in retail and the ineffectiveness of a small jurisdiction on the city level like DC to change them. DC’s policies can’t force Walmart to change their policies towards suppliers, for example. Likewise, the benefits of the economy of scale that Walmart (and other big box retailers like Target, Best Buy, etc) can achieve that gives them a huge advantage over a mom and pop shop that’s attempting to fill that same market.

            The point is, the stores we’re going to get in DC aren’t going to be the kinds of places that you get hard goods. Those stores simply don’t exist much anymore, certainly not at a neighborhood level (those that do exist need to draw on a much larger population of customers) and certainly not at an affordable level (they also need to differentiate based on value).

      • Gumpper

        Unfortunately, retail is having a tough time — as demonstrated by the recent news of the apparent closings of WellBuilt and ACKC (partially retail). But the the opening of a burger joint in the area is not the problem — there are plenty of vacant storefronts available for retail. I’m hoping that Room and Board will serve as an anchor for design/furniture places, but the closings of WellBuilt and RCK CNDY suggest the market may not be there. But to the point of the original post, have you ever been to Black & Orange on Connecticut Ave? Hardly a restaurant masquerading as a bar, even though it is open late and does serve alcohol.

  2. Logan Res

    Doug, I’d like to believe that you are truly balanced and are willing to see that both residents and developers come out with a win-win solution for filling in empty store fronts and useless lots but you always go into an attack mode and use really demeaning references against establishments, the owners of them, and the developers. You’re losing us as potential supporters with every comment you fire back on anyone who challenges you. Why not get involved with the process in a more constructive way and work with these establishments and developers and ask for enhancements to the buildings, the allocation of square footage in the proposed first floor retail bays to support small businesses, etc. You’ll achieve a lot more for the neighborhood by staying positive rather than opposing everything and anything. 14th and U is not the only neighborhood attracting new businesses. Your characterizations and use of terms is demeaning and is why so many want to reference you as being a NIMBY.

    • Doug

      Logan Res – Well, I am. Myself and about four other local residents were at the ANC committee meeting last night – and I’d encourage you to go back and re-read this post. Black & Orange came off well – didn’t you hear me say that? The owner does too – again – and they seem to have addressed many concerns. Just like I said.
      I never insult unless I am insulted. A polite challenge, as you did, earns a polite reply. As for turning people on or off, I have no control over that. Our neighborhood goal is to make sure all the development interests and regulatory boards with proposals that will affect our neighborhood hear our voice and our concerns. If that’s NIMBY, then everyone is a NIMBY.
      I’m not sure how many times we can say we don’t oppose development. We don’t oppose Matchbox. We don’t oppose Black & Orange. We DO have serious concerns about hours, alcohol and other local issues that the B&O owner himself acknowledged at the Tuesday meeting.
      Where, exactly, do you get that I wrote, or our neighbors said, we’re opposed to “everything and anything.”? Do you really feel that’s a just reading?
      –dbj

      • Long Time resident

        Can only speak for myself as someone who has been on Wallach Place since 1988. We were so starved for restaurants back then, so eager to have restaurants and places to have a glass of wine. But over the years I also yearned for the neighborhood to redevelop all the small biz retail that used to be here. And I think we need some daytime destination retail like an Apple Store or the Trader Joel’s that is rumored to want to build at Utopia. I was thrilled that Miss Pixie’s is staying because her biz is the perfect tenant for that space and she activates that whole block.

        We need daytime people traffic on the street. We have lots of nighttime and weekend. And that means we need office tenants who will come out and shop at lunch– and eat lunch at our restaurants.

        So I think we need to balance the empty buildings with office tenants
        And not just welcome one resto after another. Even though I love good restaurants.

  3. David Williams

    Sorry, but we moved here 2.5 years ago precisely because restaurants, bars, potentially a Trader Joes, etc were all opening around us (we are in Union Row at 14 and V.) Areas change, they grow, they evolve, and our area is the hot area. I don’t really care how it was when others moved here. The city has grown and gotten much better and more vibrant in the last few years, and I hope that continues, DC’s neighborhood Nazi’s notwithstanding. As an earlier poster said, if you don’t like the growth, nightlife, restaurants, etc., VA or Georgetown will be happy to have you. Otherwise, don’t ruin it for the rest of us.

    • Doug

      Thanks for the nice “Nazi” comment. So glad you’re part of the neighborhood.

      • Gumpper

        Really, Doug? Now those you don’t agree with are “Nazis”? If you want this blog to promote discourse, perhaps you should scale back the rhetoric.

        • Doug

          Gumper, if you had bothered to read “David Williams” comment, it was he who called me a Nazi. So, in the interest of civil discourse, will you now take David to task?

    • Long Time resident

      David

      I want the neighborhood to have vibrant daytime growth to balance our already vibrant nightlife. We have been successful in developing the restaurants and bars and we need to attract more of the Trader Joe’s and Miss Pixie’s and daytime office tenants. The fact that Lanier will be redeveloping 13&U is intriguing. But why call us Nazis who want a rich blend of day life and nightlife?

  4. 14th and V

    I am just happy that most of the establishments that have opened serve serious food. Unlike Adams Morgan. Almost any of the new restaurants on 14th are destinations for eating not clubbing. I hope that trend continues. We could use more retail, but with rents being what they are, it is just harder and harder for them to survive. I think that’s where the issues lies, with developers and rents. What can be done about that? On another note Well Built was a nice store but did anyone really think it was going to make it?

    • Long Time resident

      Well Built and Ikon opened in the recession and even tho Dc real estate has done well. People are not spending as much on high end as they were so not surprised

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