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It’s been hard to ignore the takeover that’s been happening along the 14th Street corridor. Slowly, independently and locally owned restaurants that helped transform the neighborhood into a dining destination are disappearing, while national chains and out-of-town restaurant groups take their place.
Among the latest casualties: Drafting Table (one of the neighborhood’s more casual hangouts), which owner Aaron Gordon says had been suffering from increased competition and a longstanding feud with neighbors. Latin-Asian restaurant Masa 14, which was originally a partnership between celeb chef Richard Sandoval and locals Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi and Ivan Iricanin of Ambar, is also calling it quits. Drafting Table will be replaced by a wine bar from a New York group, while Masa 14 will be replaced by an Atlanta-based concept called Gypsy Kitchen. (UPDATE: Policy Lounge also announced yesterday it will close after 10 years on 14th Street.)
It’s no secret that rising rents have been changing the landscape for some time now, but to dig a little deeper into what’s going on, I called veteran DC restaurant real estate broker Tom Papadopoulos. He says rents along 14th Street averaged around $40 per square foot a decade ago. These days? You’re looking closer to $75 to $90. (He’s seen as high as $100.) Restaurants that were part of the 14th Street boom, like Masa 14, are starting to come to the end of their 10-year leases, and, well, it’s hard to keep going when the market rent has doubled.
In fact, Papadopoulos says 14th Street now garners the second-highest restaurant rents in the city, after Chinatown/Penn Quarter. They’ve particularly taken off in the past two to three years as prime properties have become sparser. And unlike office-dense downtown, where landlords might be a little more generous because they make most of their money from the companies upstairs, 14th Street landlords with two-story buildings are more dependent on restaurant rent.
Naturally, local restaurateurs are often hesitant to pay these high prices (have you noticed all the expansion to the suburbs?). But for out-of-towners, it can be a comparative deal. “You come down from New York, you can pay half the rent and do three-quarters of the business and make money,” Papadopoulos says. That said, he predicts rents on 14th have likely hit a ceiling and will plateau. Just don’t expect them to come down anytime soon—demand is still high.