Clarendon Metro

Carnage in Clarendon: Restaurant Trends in Arlington’s Hottest Neighborhood

“Define the definition.”

What the Hell is that supposed to mean? Beats me, but I said it. What can I say, it was my first podcast. I was recently a guest at the ARLnow.com offices for their series, “26 Square Miles-An Arlington Podcast.” Given my background and given the popularity of restaurant articles on the site, I was pretty sure that I was going to be asked about the recent spate of closings in Clarendon. It is a topic worth exploring for sure, and I did my best to contribute to the conversation.

If you are up for it, take a listen here. We jump right in, and then pull back to broader industry trends outside of just our neighborhood. At the end, we talk about the inspiration for Mothersauce, and the plans I have for the company.

So just what has been going on in Clarendon? Well…

Tagliatelle, Brixx (6 months), Park Lane (8 months), Ri Ra, Boulevard Woodgrill, Fuego, Spice, Hard Times, American Tap Room , Amsterdam Falafel.

That’s 10 this year, and I have probably left someone out. Rumors swirl about more closures on the way, and many in the neighborhood are seeing their numbers fall.

So what is behind the Carnage in Clarendon? Hyperbole aside, a lot.

Clarendon has come a long way since the days of my youth when we would head there for Vietnamese food and not much else. The Metro’s arrival, and the brilliant planning by County leaders about how to develop around Metro laid the foundation for the success many businesses have been able to enjoy subsequent. That was 40 years ago. The past 10 years the growth has exceeded even the most optimistic forecaster’s dreams, and Clarendon has become the destination nationally for development. It hit all the right metrics and the residents and businesses flocked.

But there is a limit.

Many of us who have been in the neighborhood for some time felt that the saturation point was inevitable, and we feel we hit it a couple years before half of the businesses above even opened. As operators raced to benefit from the exploding customer base in Clarendon, rents skyrocketed to levels that were just ridiculous. Businesses signed on to high rents right as the market became flooded with concepts.

At the same time, external trends worked to shrink the famous customer base. DC exploded. 14th St., Shaw, Navy Yard, Barracks Row, NoMa. Neighborhoods few would venture to five years ago have become sought after hot spots only a short, cheap Uber away. We have certainly felt that at Spider Kelly’s.

Stuck with high rent and fighting with similar concepts for a shrinking customer base doesn’t leave a business with a lot of runway to make it. This is only heightened if the concept offers nothing particularly distinct.

And so here we are.

As the culling continues, what remains to be seen is what comes next? Many of the concepts that close will be replaced by new concepts (Ri Ra, Boulevard Woodgrill, Hard Times). Others are rumored to be switching to retail. Still others remain dark with no signs of what is to come.

Clarendon is still a great place to live, work and do business, and there is still tremendous opportunity for success. What made it so attractive many years ago continues to be what will make it attractive in the future—proximity to the city, access to mass transit, great schools and parks, and of course a vibrant commercial corridor with great businesses.
The difference is that those of us still here need to work harder, be smarter and continue to try to grow our businesses to offer our customers what they want. Why do you think we built a Beer Garden?

I am a native Arlingtonian, and I still live in the County. My daughter goes to Arlington Public Schools and many years ago when the planning was being done to grow Arlington’s commercial centers and preserve our unique neighborhoods, it was my Mom, Judy Freshman, who helped with the plan. I am invested heavily in the County, and in Clarendon, and I am very optimistic about its future.

In the meantime, at Spider Kelly’s, we will continue to focus on getting better at what we do, and watch to see who is still around when the dust settles. Hopefully, we will be.

Full Podcast: http://arlnow.libsyn.com/ep-12-spider-kellys-co-owner-nick-freshman

Barton Springs

DCA>AUS

Mothersauce Partners went nationwide recently with an exploratory trip to Austin, TX. What an amazing city in the midst of an amazing time. There is a palpable energy to the town that is inescapable—what was for years a quiet capital is now undergoing explosive growth. It seems that everyone there is trying to figure out how to make it work.

The food and drink scene in Austin is in the midst of a powerful transformation in concert with the city’s growth as a whole. Standbys like barbecue and Tex-Mex are having to adjust as new concepts gain a foothold in the scene. Navigating this as a newcomer can be tricky, but it was made easier thanks to Rachel Charlesworth. Her Instagram, ATXEats, boasts almost 14,000 followers. If you want to know where to eat—just follow her.

Unfortunately, no one told me how to dress. After my third meeting where I was in a blazer and dress shoes, and the other party was in flip flops, I started to get Austin. I shed my DC armor and began to enjoy myself a bit more.

I tried to hit a lot of the spots—Launderette, Uchiko, Fleet Coffee, Easy Tiger, Tamale House East and so on—but there were just so many on the list.

A special shout goes out to the dynamic CEO of an Austin institution, Mason Ayer at Kerbey Lane Cafe. It was great to hear about the history of an iconic company and learn about what the future might hold for them.

Also, the kick ass team at SMGB Hospitality is ready to take over Austin—and beyond. Their upcoming project, Old Thousand will no doubt make an immediate impact. These guys are real pros. Thanks for all the time, gentlemen.

I think a lot about startup culture in this country and how it is always talked about in tech, but it is as prevalent in food as much as anywhere. Restaurants are startups—aspiring restaurateurs have a great idea to meet an under-served need, they scrounge for some capital, then they take a huge risk and hope to make it big. Austin is full of these people, as is DC, and it is a big part of what makes the cities great.

I was lucky enough to meet with some of these food startup folks down there who are ready to disrupt the Austin scene for the better, and I hope to have some info soon about how Mothersauce Partners will help them do it.

In the meantime, my last meeting summed up Austin perfectly. I had heard about Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed pool in the middle of a city park, and I wanted to jump in before I left. Turns out the guy I met with last was a swimmer, and he offered to take me on the way to the airport—and jump right in with me. Now that is a cool guy, and it was a great meeting.

I started the trip in a sport jacket, and I finished it in board shorts. Thanks, ATX. I will be back soon.

barton-springs

second restaurant location

Introducing Mothersauce Partners: Restaurant Consulting and Investment Opportunities: A New Approach

I am excited to announce the launch of my new venture, Mothersauce Partners. Mothersauce is the culmination of a 20-year career in the greatest business in the world. I have spent my entire career behind bars, inside walk-ins and standing ruefully over grease traps–and I can’t imagine doing anything else. With Mothersauce, I hope to give a new generation of entrepreneurs the chance to achieve their dreams of ownership and be able to introduce their talents to a greater audience.

But first: The name, right? What does Mothersauce mean? Chefs will instinctively recognize the nod to French Chef August Escoffier, who is credited with elevating cooking to a respected and noble profession—in the late 19th century, mind you. It took some time for it to be as respected here in the U.S. Of the many things Escoffier did, perhaps most notable was to record and classify five basic sauces that form the backbone of French cooking—the mother sauces. These sauces provided the base for countless recipes that followed.

Cooking has come a long way since 19th century France. Many world cuisines have their own core ingredients and recipes, but to me the idea is the same now and wherever you go. Recipes always start with a solid foundation—how many recipes have you read that start with chopping an onion? Those recipes then grow, diverge, flourish and eventually become something completely new, but the ingredients for their success remain largely constant.

Through this venture, we aim to facilitate that “new.” Mothersauce Partners will provide the solid foundation—the mother sauce—from which these culinary entrepreneurs will launch their passions. With investment capital and seasoned expertise, we can offer them an opportunity to take that great leap.

We also want to continue to add to the culinary scene—and by extension, the culture and community—by selecting the talent with the true vision. We are looking for the rising stars who want to elevate their particular specialty to new heights and become impactful members of their communities. We will look to do right and do good.

I hope that many of you will join us. If you would like more information on investing, sign up on the site. If you are a concept and you are ready to talk, do the same.

coffee restaurant

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee: A Third Wave Coffee Concept Seeks Restaurant Financing

That’s often the phrase on repeat in my head. Morning through the afternoon and even sometimes at night. I love it, and I want it all the time. Many of you out there can relate.

But it’s worth noting that the appeal of coffee goes far beyond the caffeine fix. Coffee is a ritual, and to many people it is a fundamental part of who they are and how they operate. Coffee is a way to start the day, a means to connect with others, a respite from an otherwise busy day. Because of the value of that ritual, and because of America’s growing desire to improve upon culinary traditions, coffee has enjoyed a powerful and exciting renaissance—the third wave.

The third wave took coffee out of the freezer and the tin can and elevated it to something worth thinking and caring about. All of a sudden, people started to realize that coffee came from a place. From lots of different places, in fact. Pioneers like Philz and Peet’s kicked it off, and then Starbucks pounced and exploded. And here we are now, entering what I would call a fourth wave. Maybe a third-and-a-half wave, at least.

We are at a point now where people go out of their way to avoid a Starbucks. The original $4-latte destination is now seen as a last resort option for many who have realized that lighter, more balanced roasting of fresher, higher-quality beans makes a world of difference. It just tastes so much better. And an environment that feels original and welcoming is far better than the generic, corporate-manufactured coffee spot.

Like tasting your first Premier Cru, once you taste and experience good coffee, good luck settling for anything else. Fortunately, the market is attuned to that, and the renaissance of the “local coffee shop” is underway in force. D.C. has become a city that serves up not only good coffee, but also the unique environments in which to savor it. Add to that the development of cafes that also serve amazing teas, great food and—maybe best of all—beer, wine and cocktails.

Now the Third Place is truly complete. The basic ritual of “getting a cup of coffee” has become something more, and the city is better for it.

I am thrilled to announce that we are joining the coffee evolution with our first project, Takoma Beverage Company. Mothersauce Partners will finance and advise Takoma Beverage Company as they seek to make their mark in one of the D.C. area’s most important neighborhoods. Seth Cook and Chris Brown bring years of expertise honed in perhaps the most influential coffeeshop/café in the city—Northside Social in Clarendon—with them, as they break out to open their own store.

The talent behind this concept is top-notch and their plan is solid. With Mothersauce Partners providing the foundation, I am confident they will make a positive impact on both their community and their industry. Sign up on our site for more information about the launch of this promising new venture.