In a letter posted to the restaurant’s website, owner Art Carlson writes that an “odious” bathroom policy enforced by the building’s landlords curtailed business and ultimately forced CF Folks to close its doors for good on Friday, November 9.
Carlson claims that property company Marcus Partners is requiring CF Folks customers to be accompanied by uniformed escorts when they need to use the bathrooms at 1225 19th Street NW. As part of this policy, Carlson says, customers must identify whether they have a disability, and then are escorted to a corresponding bathroom to meet their needs.
“We refuse to participate in the separation of people … any people,” Carlson writes. “At any time or any place. We will never agree ever to an identifying process be it voluntary or forced.” The letter goes on to read, “Nor will we ever agree to the humiliation of having escorts physically overseeing the intimacies of our clients’ restroom usage.”
Paul Marcus, CEO of Marcus Partners, has disputed Carlson’s claim in a statement sent to Eater four days later. Marcus says that his company never proposed using a uniformed escort to oversee trips to the bathroom: “Marcus Partners would never take an action that denigrates or singles out an individual with a disability. The dignity of every human being is a central tenet of both our business practices and our personal beliefs.”
In his statement, Marcus says his company acquired the CF Folks building this August. By September, Marcus says, Carlson asked if he could extend the restaurant’s hours beyond lunch, “a petition he had made unsuccessfully to the building’s prior two owners.”
“We have worked diligently with Mr. Carlson to identify a solution that would both satisfy his business goals and fulfill our obligation to ensure that all tenant spaces remain secure during non-business hours,” Marcus says. “As both a landlord and a community member, we are deeply invested in the business success of all of our tenants.”
In his letter, Carlson writes that he has hired a law firm to help the restaurant negotiate a way out of its lease so it can relocate somewhere “that offers a more welcoming atmosphere.”
In his ensuing statement, Marcus wrote that his company’s “earnest desire is that CF Folks’ renowned lunch time service will once again soon be available to its loyal patrons and that it will operate from our property for years to come.”
In 2013, the James Beard Foundation honored CF Folks with an America’s Classic Award. The only other D.C. restaurant to receive the same designation is Ben’s Chili Bowl. CF Folks has also drawn recognition from the Post over the years for its affordable lunch fare, including worldly specials such as chicken korma.
As part of its recognition of CF Folks, the James Beard Foundation posted the following video to YouTube spotlighting Carlson’s role as a curmudgeonly character who talks politics with customers and has a Barbie Ann Coulter hanged in effigy behind the cash register.
Update: November 17, 2018: This story was originally published on November 12, 2018. It has been updated to include Marcus Partners’ response to CF Folks.