Graffiato Has Gone Dark, But Mike Isabella Says He’s Still Trying to Save It

The landlord has filed an eviction lawsuit for unpaid rent

Graffiato DC is temporarily closed while its owners decide its fate. Photograph by Anna Spiegel

Graffiato Chinatown is closed this week following an eviction lawsuit from the landlord, but Mike Isabella says his flagship restaurant isn’t necessarily done yet. 

“We’ve closed down to rethink things,” says Isabella, who adds that Graffiato employees have been temporarily transitioned to other restaurants within Mike Isabella Concepts (MIC). “It all hinges on financial decisions.” 

Landlord Douglas Development has sued the restaurant for $54,980 in unpaid rent and other fees and listed the property for lease. (A representative from Douglas has not responded to requests for comment.) The landlord of Requin Brasserie, which closed in April at the Mosaic District, is suing MIC for more than $700,000 in alleged unpaid rent and other fees, as reported by the Washington Business Journal. 

It all comes on the heels of a high-profile lawsuit this spring, in which a former employee accused Isabella and his partners of sexual harassment. The financial terms were not disclosed when the case was settled in May. Isabella acknowledges the lawsuit has hurt his restaurants—”some less than others”—but says he’d been thinking about closing Requin Brasserie prior.

“Honestly, I probably would have closed some of the restaurants I closed now over a year ago, but since I was in the process of opening up three restaurants last year, including Isabella Eatery, it’s not a good look,” he says. “So if I had to pay to keep it open longer, then I did that.”

Isabella says currently three outcomes are on the table for Graffiato, which he says “hasn’t been the same” over the past couple of years. Graffiato may close permanently. Graffiato may reopen with its existing Italian-American theme. Or Graffiato may transition into something else entirely under the MIC umbrella. Isabella says he’s currently in conversation with an outside chef to operate a pop-up—somewhat similar to the long-gone Industry Takeover nights, but as a longer-term feature. The outside chef would bring his or her menu and concept, and team Isabella would help with execution, staffing, dish development, etc. Regardless of what direction it all goes, a decision is slated for next week.

Isabella has shuttered two restaurants in the past four months—Graffiato Richmond and Requin Brasserie—but he says he’s fighting to keep his first restaurant open. 

“It’s my first restaurant and there’re a lot of memories,” says Isabella. “There’s a lot that went into it. The industry takeovers, the chefs that came out of that camp, my family, the history behind it. It means a lot to me.”

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.