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Honeygrow Is Leaving Chinatown Because of ‘Crazy’ High Rent

The fast-casual brand is also halting expansion plans in 2019

Honeygrow is closing its location in Chinatown.
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

With sky-high rents and insufficient sales, Philly stir-fry chain Honeygrow’s Chinatown location did not pan out.

CEO Justin Rosenberg confirms the 2,200-square-foot location at 716 7th Street NW, which in 2016 brought the dense neighborhood a lunch and dinner option for noodle bowls, will close some time this month.

“The bottom line is rents were crazy for us,” he told Eater in a phone call today.

Rosenberg declined to disclose rental rates at the Douglas Development-owned site, but a local broker with knowledge of the neighborhood tells Eater Honeygrow was likely paying around $200 per square foot in Chinatown.

The closure comes about a year after he mapped out big expansions plans that originally called for adding 18 stores in 2018 alone. Rosenberg admits the brand might’ve expanded too quickly; Honeygrow just announced plans to shutter its three Chicago locations, and he says the company will not open any new stores in 2019.

“As a company we took a hard look at our restaurants across the board,” says Rosenberg. “I was like, ‘Let’s slow down and focus not necessarily on growth but on tightening up and replicating the best version of Honeygrow.’ ”

Rosenberg says he’s going to use 2019 to fine-tune and improve details inside each existing store — from “perfecting” service to more staff training. “The fast casual market is so crowded today I’d rather we stand out because our operations are solid,” he says.

At each location, tech-savvy customers customize their creations on touch screen panels, dialing up signature salads and stir-fries with various options for proteins and sauces such as sour cherry barbecue and red coconut curry.

Honeygrow has four other area locations in Pentagon City, Rockville, Reston, and Tysons Corner, which is the newest of the bunch. “Those rents make sense,” Rosenberg says.

Chinatown was a different story. While Rosenberg insists sales were “still trending in right direction,” the location “needed to exponentially make more to meet the rents.” The rent was, on average, “three to four times” more expensive than most of its 28 locations across Delaware, New York/New Jersey, the D.C. metropolitan area, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Fast casual chain Taylor Gourmet also recently ran into trouble in D.C., closing all of its locations in September after a dispute with an investor. But home-grown fast-casual concepts Sweetgreen and Cava continue to thrive.