Dec 12, 2022 - News

2022 was a year of reckoning for D.C. restaurants

Illustration of a fork in a chef's hat

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Bad Saint. Mintwood Place. The Pig.

They were restaurants Washingtonians held dear, and all three closed this year.  

Why it matters: The pandemic has been hard on the city’s dining scene, but for many restaurants, 2022 — the year vaccines became available for the youngest kids and many people started going back to the office — felt like it should have been the comeback year. Instead, we saw the opposite. 

By the numbers: So far, at least 48 D.C. restaurants have shuttered in 2022, according to the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. That’s an increase from the 40 closures in 2021.

  • Among them: Thamee, Rappahannock Oyster Bar (at Union Market), Bethesda Bagels (Dupont Circle), Columbia Room, and DBGB Kitchen & Bar.

What happened? Too many customers continued to ditch dining out due to remote work and inflation.

And the biggest factor of all: The federal dollars ran out. 

  • D.C.-area restaurants were approved for over $650 million in pandemic relief funding by the end of 2020.

Zoom in: David Winer, owner of EatWell DC restaurant group, ran Grillfish downtown for 26 years. His Logan Circle restaurant, The Pig, was a neighborhood institution for 10 years. He closed both restaurants last month. 

  • Pandemic rescue funds helped keep them afloat for the first two pandemic years. But when they ran out earlier this year, he was left “hemorrhaging money” from his own pocket, Winer tells Axios. 
  • He says he raised prices to compensate, but those increases drove customers away. 
  • “You hold things together as long as you can for [longtime employees],” Winer says. “It gets to a point where it just doesn’t make sense.” 

Genevieve Villamora, who closed her pioneering Filipino restaurant Bad Saint, told Axios this summer that the restaurant hadn’t made a profit in over two years — even with the help of federal dollars.

Be smart: Even before the pandemic, most restaurants operated on razor-thin margins, so the industry is incredibly sensitive to any financial setbacks. 

The other side: Some go-tos have thrived thanks to pandemic pivots and strokes of good fortune. 

D.C. hotspot Le Diplomate has added takeout, more lunch service, and 80 outdoor seats, which were especially useful while indoor dining was restricted. 

  • Eva Torres of Starr Restaurants tells Axios that these adds allowed Le Dip to meet its financial goals even during pandemic years.

Centrolina owner Amy Brandwein credits its survival to well-timed pre-pandemic renovations, which led to new revenue streams like take-home meal kits. She says she was also able to produce higher-quality cooking classes (both live and taped) and opened an online store.

What’s next: The future remains tenuous for D.C. restaurant owners who will have to adjust to Initiative 82 and its new pay structure for tipped workers.


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