Restaurants in The InTowner
The InTowner
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In a recent Metro Weekly interview with renowned chef Jamie Leeds, owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar at 17th and Q Streets, responding to the interviewer’s comment that her place “seems so beloved in the neighborhood [and] . . . always looks busy,” Leeds responded, “Exactly, which is why an expansion would be great. Everybody’s been so positive in wanting it, in pushing me to do it.”

Then, clearly remembering her very difficult time five years ago this spring in overcoming resistance by a few neighbors to her even opening to begin with she observed, “But, you know, if I come across any more resistance, it’s going to be an issue. We have to amend that ‘voluntary agreement,’ and they have to agree for me to expand. It’s kind of like I’m back in the same position. If we get any resistance, it’ll just leave a very bad taste in my mouth. If it doesn’t enable me to expand, maybe I’ll have to move Hank’s altogether.”

It should be noted at the outset that the space immediately next door to her premises that she is considering expanding into is one that she can legally do so. Not only did the Board of Zoning Adjustment last year clear the way for that space on Q Street, a few doors east of 17th, to be utilized for commercial purposes, and not only did the ABC Board authorize sufficient additional lateral expansion options for the East Dupont Moratorium Zone, but the Dupont Circle ANC has already endorsed the idea of Leeds expanding her establishment.

Yet, notwithstanding that the stage is set for this to happen, already there are some who are seemingly ready oppose what should be a pro-forma amendment to the so-called Voluntary Agreement between her establishment and neighborhood stakeholders that was accepted by the ABC Board back in 2005.

One contributor to the neighborhood e-group, who apparently does not think well of the cuisine offered, even seemed to suggest that her restaurant is not worthy of “the privilege of operating in the neighborhood” and that it would be better that Hank’s be replaced by a restaurant “that caters more to neighborhood interests — and actually serves good food.”

One has to hope that personal culinary tastes do not become points to raise in opposing licensees’ applications before the ABC Board! The fact that one had a less than satisfactory dining experience is hardly a basis for consideration by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board.

We should note, by the way, that Jaime Leeds is one of the top chefs in our region and both Hank’s and her Columbia Heights establishment have received glowing reviews from restaurant critics in numerous publications, ranging from the Washington Post to The InTowner. The fact is, Leeds is a culinary star and our somewhat out-of-the-way Dupont East neighborhood was very fortunate to attract a restaurant of this caliber. The last thing this neighborhood needs is for an establishment like hers to leave. Should that happen it would be a step backward for a neighborhood that needs to maintain the quality restaurants that have gravitated in over the past few years. Should one like hers pull out it could set in motion a slow exodus of others. That would not be good.

Furthermore, the idea that it is somehow a “privilege” for a business to open in a low-density neighborhood such as Dupont East is an odd way of looking at economic development and neighborhood business stabilization. Businesses open in locations where the entrepreneurs believe they will be able to earn a decent income and not be hounded into an early grave. Quite frankly, we think it is our “privilege” to have quality restaurants and retailers wanting to do business in neighborhoods like Dupont East. The reality is that restaurants of the caliber of Hanks could do very nicely almost anywhere in downtown DC; we can think of several other up-scale neighborhoods where residents would kill for the “privilege” of having a restaurant like Hank’s open in their neighborhood.

What especially bothers us about the kind of anti-business attitude we observe in Dupont East is that it is, for the most part, replicated throughout our city. In some way residents might not be fully to blame; the city’s bureaucracy itself too frequently acts as if business enterprises are somehow an imposition. The sad fact is that such attitudes, developed within the bureaucracy over decades, have seeped out into the community psyche and may well have aided in poisoning the public attitude about even the small neighborhood businesses that are really so vital to ensuring a desirable quality of life for all of us.

None of what we are saying here is meant to suggest that we should just give carte blanche to bad and disruptive behavior by businesses; they, like the residents, have responsibilities to the whole community. But let’s step back and think about the damage done when the business climate is so hostile that the good ones flee or refuse to come in at all.