Nearly nine months after its big debut, Mike Isabella‘s sprawling food hall in the Tysons Galleria mall has closed. Isabella Eatery is the fourth venture from the former Top Chef star to shutter this year, following a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee against the restaurateur and his business partners.
“It is with true regret that I announce that Isabella Eatery at Tysons Galleria will cease operations today,” wrote Isabella in an email statement. “Our outstanding team pursued a very big dream….. to present several of our restaurant concepts to the public under one roof. Sadly, it didn’t work out as we’d hoped. I cannot express in words how hard we strived to achieve success and how proud I am of the selfless effort which was put forth by our team members. I will be eternally grateful for the commitment to excellence they demonstrated, especially during times when it would have been easy for any one of them to have simply walked away.”
Isabella Eatery has been in trouble for some time. What started as nine distinct concepts (including spinoffs of restaurants Requin, Arroz, and Kapnos) had contracted into a general dining hall, coffee shop, and ice cream parlor in recent months. As Washingtonian previously reported, the 41,000-square-foot venue cut staff in addition to menus, and employees reported checks bouncing earlier this summer. A local real estate broker, speaking anonymously, said that the space was being quietly shopped around.
Isabella’s closing statement continues:
“Restaurants close when their operating expenses exceed the revenues the restaurants generate. Isabella Eatery is no exception. We were doing our best to operate 9 restaurant units at the highest level in a very large space on the 3rd floor of a retail center. Perhaps Isabella Eatery missed the mark because I became too impressed with myself and thought I make anything work. Perhaps it was because of the way I presented our offerings at Tysons Galleria. Perhaps the space was too grand or perhaps the dining public was just not as excited as we were about a ‘restaurant emporium’ like the one we tried to provide. Whatever the reasons, we gave it our best shot.
As painful as it is to try to ride out a storm, to see a dream thwarted, to see good people lose an investment- and to then reflect candidly at one’s own role in that dream’s demise- I can promise that our team and I will continue to dream of better days ahead, and will work like hell to turn those dreams into reality. The fundamentals remain intact. Our operational skills are solid, our food is still terrific and our team is STILL THE BEST THERE IS.”
One huge factor not mentioned in his email was the sexual harassment lawsuit from Chloe Caras, who was once the Director of Operations for Isabella Eatery. In July, Isabella told Washingtonian “Everything was great. Until some accusations came out, and sales dropped a lot.” He said the lawsuit hurt all his restaurants to varying degrees. The suit settled in May, but the financial terms were not disclosed.
Beyond the lawsuit, Isabella acknowledged that the Eatery faced other struggles. For starters, he says there were too many different kitchens, and if he were to do it again, he’d stick to one big utility kitchen and prep area. In recent months, Isabella shut down many of those kitchens and combined the menus into one, with options ranging from Pepita guacamole to Graffiato spaghetti. Also gone were many of the higher-price items, like oysters and sushi.
“All these kitchens, you need chefs, you need kitchen managers, you need runners. You’re talking over 300 employees. And if you’re not busy, there’s a problem,” Isabella says. He added that diners were confused about which restaurants were sit-down versus fast-casual, and whether they could bring food from one to the other.
Isabella also told Washingtonian in July that he expanded his company too fast, opening more than a dozen restaurants in seven years. He says he held off shutting some restaurants last year because it was “not a good look” with all the attention on Isabella Eatery.
This year, though, three other Isabella restaurants have closed, including Requin Brasserie in the Mosaic District, and Graffiato locations in Richmond and DC. Multiple landlords are suing for unpaid rent.
“When you go from a couple restaurants to doubling your company in size in a matter of nine months, it’s not easy,” Isabella says. “There’s going to be cracks and stuff like that, and it happened.”