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November 2, 2012 
 
 

Sandy Question:
To Open or Not to Open?


This weekend's Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show is a two-day foodie event Nov. 3-4 featuring hundreds of exhibitors, cooking demos, tastings, workshops, appearances and book signing by Food Network celebs. Bring your appetite! Buy tickets here.

 

That was the question facing the city’s restaurants Monday morning as Frankenstorm Sandy gained serious steam. We spoke with three very different restaurants to understand the thought process behind this decision and found they focused on the same two questions: Is it safe for my staff to come in? Are my clients going to want to come in?

 
Ellen Kassoff-Gray, co-owner of Todd Gray’s Equinox, tells us that because of their location and clientele, transportation issues were a major concern. The Metro closing sealed the deal for them. “Our clients don’t live near us—they work near us. If they weren’t coming to work, they certainly weren’t coming in to eat with us. Not to mention it’s a week before Election Day, and everyone scattered around the country campaigning couldn’t get back into the city.” Add to that, their staff would have had serious trouble getting in, so they knew they had “no choice but to close."

Ted’s BULLETIN, however, is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, and a safe and easy walk for its clientele and staff. Principal partner Drew Kim tells us this is precisely why they stayed open as much as possible during Sandy. “Our customers know when there’s bad weather, we always do our best to take care of the neighborhood.” They provided shuttles for staff who wanted to come in, and closed until 4pm Tuesday because they weren’t sure it would be safe to open. But Drew tells us the phones were ringing off the hook that morning, and they had a wait within 15 minutes of opening. “For every person upset with us for staying open in a storm, you get 10 more upset when we’re not open because they don’t have anywhere to go.”

Karen deGategno

Christianne Ricchi (owner, i Ricchi) tells us she subsidized cabs for a skeleton crew to staff the restaurant during regular hours Monday and Tuesday. “Historically, that’s been our MO. During blizzards and hurricanes, people still need to eat, and we think it’s our responsibility to stay open.” Christianne made sure the stranded guests at the many surrounding hotels knew she was open, and the Ritz-Carlton sent her a 13-top Monday night when the restaurant they originally booked closed without notice. Christianne acknowledges her restaurant is never as full during storms like this. But she believes staying open is worth it for the goodwill, evidenced by the many happy calls she received for opening during Sandy. 


Attack of the Killer Subs

 

Taylor Gourmet’s announcement last week that it is taking over the old Meatballs space was a bit surprising, since the space is mere blocks from the City Vista location. But owner Casey Patten, flanked by COO Rob Coppock and GM Nick Kilhefner, tells us he isn't worried. The Mt. Vernon Triangle area has grown enough to form a separate market, so the two will cater to different crowds. When asked if he’s concerned that Penn Quarter is already saturated with lunch options, he grinned, “Competition only makes you better and stronger.” They take sandwiches seriously at Taylor, using fresh ingredients made in-house where possible. Casey thinks that’ll keep customers coming back.

The Taylor empire’s expansion isn’t limited to hoagies. Casey tells us the highly anticipated cheesesteak and water-ice joint Taylor Charles Steak & Ice is moving along quickly, and will open in early December at 1320 H St NE. In addition to sandwiches stuffed with fresh-sliced ribeye, the menu will offer many vegetarian options (think portobellos, not seitan). The all-natural water-ice will feature fresh fruit and zero HFCS. He also hinted that we should look out for “some fun menu changes in January at all of our locations,” though he refused to say more. We'll continue to bug him for details.


Beer Not Guns

 

After 20 years of doing business-to-government trade shows, Denise Medved, founder of this weekend's Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining Show (flanked by Jacques and Claudine Pepin) decided to create the event that she actually wanted to attend: “I always loved cooking and entertaining, and that’s a whole lot more fun than homeland security.” She drew on that experience to build a “trade show” for foodies. The conferences she attended always had workshops and keynotes, so she asked herself, “What would the foodie equivalent of those be?” Interactive cooking demos and celebrity appearances, naturally.

 

Denise tells us her learning curve was steep and full of surprises. “It was easier to get guns into the convention center for homeland security events than to get permission to do a beer tasting!” This year, around 20,000 attendees are expected, and A-listers like Giada DeLaurentis and Tom Collichio are headlining. But she started seven years ago with 6,000 attendees and the Deen brothers. She attributes the show’s growth to her policy of responding to customer demand while putting profitability above popularity. “Our interactive cooking demos were a pile of fun for guests, but we barely broke even on them. So now we‘re doing a food and beer pairing. Still fun for them; a much better business model for us.”

 

We're giving away two pairs of tickets to this weekend’s show! Become a fan on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for a chance to win. We’ll announce winners at 5pm on Friday and will send tickets via email.


NewsBites

Sandy Slowdowns  - minibar and Farmers, Fishers, Bakers have both been forced to push back their opening dates due to Sandy-related complications. The new opening dates are now November 9 and 7, respectively.

Range – Bryan Voltaggio’s newest restaurant, Range, has announced a tentative opening date of December 8. Coming to Chevy Chase MD, this will be the Top Chef star’s first DC-area restaurant and will feature a coffee bar, wine bar, in-house bakery, and open kitchen.

False Alarm, Sort Of – The Twitter-verse was a-flutter yesterday with news that a 2-alarm fire had burned down Union Market Wednesday night. One important detail some missed: it was the old Union Market that caught fire, a few blocks away from the new Union Market development by EDENs, which was unaffected.

The New Jared – Local food writer Nevin Martell’s month-long Protein Bar project ended yesterday. After a month of eating exclusively at Protein Bar, Nevin weighed in 12 pounds lighter yesterday. Quinoa never looked so good.

Chinatown Pies – Baltimore-based Dangerously Delicious Pies has announced that it will be opening a second DC brick-and-mortar location in Chinatown.

 

Send tips, ideas, and Sandy survival tips: Alia.Khan@bisnow.com. For ad inquiries, contact Stephen@bisnow.com

 
 
 
 
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