Will Out-Of-Town Concepts Squash DC’s Local Restaurant Scene?

by Rebecca Cooper

Carmine’s in Penn Quarter

It’s been hard to go a month recently without news breaking of an out-of-town restaurateur or food concept announcing that DC will be the lucky recipient of its latest location. Eataly. Bobby’s Burger Palace. Stephen Starr. Pinkberry. Shake Shack. Lime Fresh. The list goes on.

In a city still wrestling with what exactly its “food scene” is or will be, the ingress of transplants begs the question: Will DC’s dining identity be able to come into its own with so many carbon copies from elsewhere?

Local chefs don’t seem to be sweating the outside influence on the city’s dining identity. Mark Kuller, owner of Proof and Estadio, sees the District’s dining scene already speeding fast in the opposite direction of its previous reputation as a steakhouse city.

“It’s changing in a positive way, and perhaps some of it is generated by the out-of-towners coming in,” he tells UrbanTurf, noting that a number of his competitors – Jose Andres, Michel Richard, Jeff Black, Robert Wiedermayer, Cathal Armstrong — have been doing new and interesting things of late.

The line outside the DC Shake Shack the day it opened.

Kuller does believe that the city restaurant scene is beginning to develop into a great international food center, and that transplants such as Wolfgang Puck and his restaurant The Source, the trendy Asian fusion restaurant adjacent to the Newseum, are contributing to that reputation.

“Wolfgang Puck could have opened Puck here,” he points out, referring to the noted chef’s steakhouse concept. “But he opened up an Asian restaurant, and it worked out great, because the city wanted something exciting like that.” Kuller believes that the influx of competitive new concepts hasn’t stifled DC chefs’ creativity, but rather enhanced it. “Anything that challenges restaurants to do better is a good thing for the DC dining community.”

The family-style Italian restaurant Carmine’s is one of several New York City-based establishments that made DC its newest home over the last year, opening in Penn Quarter last August. But CEO Jeff Banks says that they consider themselves a part of the local restaurant landscape as much as anyone now. He points to the two public-voted RAMMY awards the restaurant received for 2010, as well as the two-star review from Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema.

“We really immersed ourselves, and spent time trying to be a neighborhood-based restaurant,” Banks explains. “DC seems to be very happy with us.” He remarked that Carmine’s decision to branch out into DC last summer was largely based on the economy. The region was doing relatively well in a time when the rest of the country was feeling a recession. As for the others, he wonders whether there is a bandwagon mentality.

“You start to see kind of like, for lack of a better word, a herd mentality,” he says. “With restaurants saying, ‘Oh, so-and-so’s going there, well I should be going there too.’”

The future location of Stephen Starr’s DC restaurant.

Justin Stegall, a Northern Virginia native who opened Bake Shop in Clarendon about a year before New York cupcake giant Crumbs set up shop around the corner, has been witness to the herd, but doesn’t necessarily think the new businesses are having a dramatic impact on the market.

“My concept has always been a traditional bake shop,” Stegall says. “We’re kind of a destination; our customers wouldn’t stop coming to us to go to a bigger name on the main drag.”

He has noted the rapid influx of out-of-town concepts, though, especially in casual retail ventures like his.

“It’s like all these places just wake up and realize that ‘Oh, I want to be there,’” he says. “And then it’s kind of following the New York style of having a Pinkberry across from a Red Mango across from another yogurt place.” (Incidentally, a Pinkberry frozen yogurt shop is also about to open down the block from Bake Shop in Clarendon, just down the way from a Red Mango frozen yogurt outpost, and practically adjacent to a Red Velvet cupcake shop.)

Then again, Stegall points to new local concepts opening all the time. Being a ramen-phile, he highlights Toki Underground on H Street NE as a mark of DC’s diversifying scene. “There’s definitely really good food here,” he tells UrbanTurf. “You’ve just got to look for it.”

Kuller looks at who’s coming to town — most recently, Philadelphia’s Stephen Starr announced he would open up a Parc-like French bistro on 14th Street — and thinks it’s all good.

“We have some great restaurants here, but even as someone that lives in DC, I’d say we’re not in the top 3 [restaurant cities] in the country,” he says. “So for us to continue to improve is a really good thing, and maybe all the new places coming in will inspire that.”

See other articles related to: restaurant news, neighborhood eats

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/will_out-of-town_concepts_squash_dcs_local_restaurant_scene/3921


  1. SRT said at 2:41 pm on Thursday August 4, 2011:

    I love all the out-of-town places that have come in, but i think the city has produced some very good local options in the last year…estadio being at the top of the list.

  1. jag said at 4:30 pm on Thursday August 4, 2011:

    The food scene is a million times better than even 10 years ago, so I honestly could care less as long as that trend continues.

  1. Chris said at 8:42 am on Friday August 5, 2011:

    The food scene is DC is one of the worst of the major cities in this country. I’ve lived here for 5 years now and there has been a tiny bit of improvement but I fully welcome concepts of other cities; challenge the DC restaurants to step up their game!

  1. CCCREWMOM said at 12:20 am on Tuesday August 9, 2011:

    Coming from Houston to DC about 16 years ago I noted the lack of late night options (lobby lunch crowd) and the lack of consistently good reasonably priced restaurants which Houston and New York City have in abundance.  DC seems to specialize in restaurants producing overpriced and inconsistent food. I have yet to find a restaurant where every course is fantastic and the bill is reasonable.  But I do like the recent trend of more Belgian style eateries:)

Comments are closed.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾