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You'll Never Guess Who's Opening a Restaurant

Washington DC

Doesn’t “Upstairs with Mr. Darby” sound perfect for a British TV show? Alas, Monument Realty chief Michael Darby is Australian. And much of his activity is outside, at ground level. And his new wife, Ashley, has the TV market cornered.

No, he’s not pulling a rabbit out of that napkin, but Michael is definitely a magician. Your publisher snapped this over lunch with the maestro at Joe’s Seafood, Stone Crab, and Steakhouse. Here’s a guy who went into the recession with Lehman as his capital partner and yet has managed to jump back on his feet. Working with other top shelf capital sources like Square Mile, Atlas, Walton Street, Lionstone, and Angelo Gordon, he closed out 2013 with sales of his 320k SF Monument View office complex in Arlington to Boeing and 55 Half St to Hines

In Maryland, he’s rehabbing 320k SF Executive Plaza (pictured), hoping to re-lease it to GSA; just broke ground on 235 residential units in College Park; and is converting Montgomery Village Golf Club into 500 to 600 townhouses and apartments, and giving the community an 80-acre park. In Chinatown Michael's finalizing approvals on 200 resi units with ground-floor retail, an 80k SF office building, and working with Conrad Cafritz on a pod-style 230-room Modus hotel. In Capital Riverfront he’s ready to buy 240k SF 100 M. And at Liberty View near the Franconia/Springfield Metro, he’s developing 875k SF of office and thinking it might make sense to combine Metro Park, which is currently being marketed, so as to control a large portion of current and future supply in the Fort Belvoir area.

Oh, and on the unconventional side, he's even building in Somalia. Yes, you heard that right. He and his partner, Bancroft Global Development, have constructed two camps located on the Indian Ocean in Mogadishu (rated as one of the most dangerous places on earth). They have 300 rooms and 25k SF of office. Michael met his business partner in a bar and decided it would be a fun thing to do—especially since he says returns are off the charts.

Which brings us to another "fun thing"—that restaurant. Michael met Ashley shortly after she’d been crowned Miss DC in 2011. They got married this May at 34-room Rock House in Negril, Jamaica. Ashley’s the one who would run the Australian-themed restaurant—and she’s the one who rumor has it is in the center of the lens of a NY production company planning a reality TV show about women entrepreneurs in DC. Michael has no comment about the rumor but says if there were a show, he’ll just be a “cameo king” in the background. Ashley and Michael say a restaurant would have a very "laid back Aussie feel." He adds, "We'll have a mood detector at the front door and if you're in a bad mood, it won't allow you in."

Michael has developed multiple buildings with noted restaurants, owns Bristow Manor Golf Club near Manassas that has a pub and 200-person catering facility, and is an investor in Anthony Lanier’s L2 Lounge in G’Town. As-yet unnamed (suggestions anyone?), it will be Washington’s only Australian eatery, Michael believes, featuring national cuisine like leg of lamb, Pacific Ocean seafood, gourmet sausage rolls and meat pies, lamingtons and pavlova. He’s looking at a 5,100 SF space with 100 seats in an undisclosed area of the RB Corridor. "Once we introduce Washington to healthy and tasty Australian cuisine, I can also see a food truck in the future," he says. (To illustrate this paragraph, the only picture we could find was of your publisher in Australia some years back sharing an ice cream craving with a kangaroo.)

Ashley and Michael just returned from climbing Kilimanjaro—they may be resting here, but it was six days trekking up and two days down. Great practice for scaling lots of other daunting mountains. Somehow Michael always seems to get to the top.