Graffiato went dark last week following an eviction lawsuit from the landlord. Owner Mike Isabella claimed he was trying to revive his first-ever restaurant, but the verdict is in: the nearly eight year-old Italian-American restaurant is permanently closed. It may not be the last closure either.
“I have a lot of restaurants. You learn you have restaurants that are great, and restaurants that sometimes aren’t that great,” says Isabella. “I’m definitely thinking of closing one or two more and focusing on the rest.”
Isabella is vague on the details but says he’s more inclined to sell existing concepts, especially one-offs like Yona “that you’re not going to do more of.” The downsizing mindset marks a major shift for one of Washington’s restaurant empire builders, who once claimed he aspired to become a mega-operator like Wolfgang Puck.
“The concept got outgrown,” says Isabella of Graffiato. “I haven’t put as much time as I liked to in there. It needed time and effort, and I just didn’t have it.”
Isabella acknowledges the high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit against him and his business partners, which settled for an undisclosed sum in May, hurt all of his restaurants, “some less than others.”
He also says his expansion was too quick and hurt the financial health of the company—especially in the last year, with the opening of Arroz, Requin at the Wharf, a branch of Kapnos in College Park, and the massive Isabella Eatery food hall in Tysons Corner. Isabella says the four debuts were originally scheduled to be staggered over two years, but due to various delays, they came in rapid-fire succession.
“It was definitely too much,” says Isabella. “When you open up restaurants, you have to hire prior to opening when there’s no income coming in. When you have to hire 20 managers and chefs on salaries, it drains you financially. Now, I’d do one at a time, get it open, get it running, and then do the next one.”