The slow, difficult end of Bad Saint
The recent closing of Bad Saint stunned followers of the pioneering Filipino restaurant, a favorite of D.C. and national chowhounds alike after Bon Appétit six years ago named it America’s second-best new restaurant.
Why it matters: Although there’s hope that COVID-19 will become endemic, pandemic pressures continue to mess with small businesses in particular
- From March 2020 to March 2022, 164 restaurants in D.C. closed, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington told Axios.
What happened: Bad Saint co-owner Genevieve Villamora tells Axios her Columbia Heights restaurant hadn’t made a profit in over two years.
Two rounds of PPP loans and Restaurant Revitalization Funds weren’t enough to offset months of short staffing, food and supply shortages, and other pandemic-induced challenges.
- Additionally, the owners never felt comfortable reopening their intimate 24-seat dining room, and instead hosted guests on a new patio but struggled to get their customers back.
Unpredictable dining patterns became impossible to manage, with random Tuesdays drawing in more customers than weekends, and weather playing a bigger role.
The decision point: There wasn’t a specific trigger for calling it quits. It was “a slow, incremental reckoning and recognition of all the factors,” Villamora says.
Zoom in: Bad Saint chose not to announce the closing ahead of time, in an effort to not prolong the process. Ironically, the last night of service was the busiest they’d seen in weeks.
- Still, the turnout didn’t cause Villamora to question the closure. Instead “it felt like the universe was trying to comfort us by giving us a solid last night of dinner service. It felt like a cosmic aligning that was totally unexpected.”
Details: Closing a restaurant is a meticulous undertaking, from filing paperwork to selling appliances.
Bad Saint chefs spent the days after closing using leftover ingredients to make signature sauces. The restaurant then sold them along with plates and patio furniture at a couple of well-attended tag sales.
- Ahead of the last one, three pounds of ginger and nothing else sat in the Bad Saint fridge.
What’s next: Villamora says she loves D.C. and doesn’t plan to leave. She says it's too early to think about future plans — for now, she’s just excited to spend more time with family.
A closing word: “Restaurants aren’t really actually about food; I think they’re actually about people,” Villamora says of her customers and staff. “The energy that we had together … on a night when we had a full dining room – and like the music was playing and people were enjoying the food – I’ll never forget that feeling and I’ll always miss it. Always.”
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