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D.C. Restaurants Cope with the Impact of Snowzilla

How some restaurants managed to stay open — and what they're dealing with in the aftermath.

Ambar
Ambar
Official

Winter Storm Jonas shut down the metro and bus routes over the weekend, effectively closing many D.C. restaurants whose staff depends on public transportation to get to work. But a handful of bars and restaurants managed to stay open through a mixture, creativity, stubbornness, and luck. For the most part, they were rewarded with lots of business when stir-crazy Washingtonians ventured out of their homes.

Some businesses relied on car pools to stay open. Tony Brown of Macon Bistro rented an SUV to transport staff to and from the restaurant on Friday and Sunday but closed on Saturday. "It was fun to be able to get in there," he says. "The neighborhood guests were in a good mood. It brings the staff closer together as well." Ambar's general manager Uros Smiljanic also picked up his cooks and waitstaff all weekend.

According to Brookland Pint general manager Drew Swift, they were able to stay open thanks to all the Catholic University students who work there part-time. "A good number of my employees live in the building we're in or in other houses on the block," he said.

Swift fully stocked the kitchen before the weekend, but they still ran out of food by 5 p.m. on Sunday. As the only bar open in the neighborhood over the weekend, Brookland Pint transformed into a festive gathering spot. They even even held a snow man building contest on the patio and awarded gift certificates for first, second, and third place.

Chef Erik Bruner-Yang was also lucky to have staff living near his restaurants on H Street, and a pastry assistant agreed to stay at his house over the weekend.  "A lot of our staff from both Toki and Maketto walk to work everyday so we combined both staffs into one restaurant serving a limited menu all day," he explains. The restaurant stayed busy throughout the weekend with the help of some neighbors who helped with snow shoveling.

Bar owner Derek Brown also turned to a few neighbors for help to keep Southern Efficiency open on 7th Street in Shaw. Two neighbors (including Eater contributor Christine Blau) helped out as bar backs or in the kitchen. The bar served a limited menu of hot drinks, grilled Rappahannock oysters, grilled cheese, and clam chowder.

Stories like these are the exception though, not the rule. Most restaurants had no choice but to close or else risk their employees' safety. Dean Gold of Dino's Grotto wants to remind diners, "Let’s acknowledge that a lot of people made a big sacrifice by not staying open and my guys really appreciated that we closed." As weekends are typically the biggest revenue nights, it will be tough for small restaurants like his to recover.

Brown expressed similar sentiments after making the decision to close Saturday. ""It was definitely a hit. We can certainly handle it, but I hate to lose a Saturday at this time of year. It's already lean as it is. But unfortunately it's what we had to work with."

By Monday, many restaurants were emerging from the storm, with fewer closures and some creative promotional tactics. A common theme: many are treating Monday like Sunday and offering brunch today in lieu of the weekend. Delivery delays are still a concern: Brookland Pint's Swift had to make a Harris Teeter run for supplies today.

It's also an unfortunate coincidence that the storm happened right before Restaurant Week. With lots of snow still on the ground, the next few days will probably be slower than usual. "I know a lot of restauranteurs, and we live week-to-week and a good week makes a difference and a bad week makes a difference. Bad doesn’t even begin to describe this week," Gold says.

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