The Cheesecake Factory elicits a lot of strong emotions, at least in the DC area (let us never forget Clarendon’s Great Cheesecake Factory Riot of 2018). The behemoth chain just announced a March 30 opening date in Downtown DC at 1426 H St., NW, and the public reaction is more mixed than an Eggroll Sampler and fierier than a platter of Buffalo Blasts®. People of the internet are happy, sad, angry, hangry, and who knows what else. What gives?
— Maegan Vazquez (@maeganvaz) February 2, 2021
There are currently nine Cheesecake Factories in the greater Washington suburbs and Chevy Chase DC, which opened in 1991—then only the fifth location of the now 211 branch chain. This new Factory will be the only one downtown.* Popville confirmed rumors of the chain’s arrival in August 2019, setting the tone: “Woodward Table to be replaced by a Cheesecake Factory?!!?!” A week prior, James Beard Award-winning DC chef Jeff Buben announced that he planned to close his Southern restaurant in the historic Woodward building after seven years. “We were never able to transcend the neighborhood,” Buben told Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema, who Tweeted the news. “It takes a lot of resources to run a restaurant like that.”
You know who does have a lot of resources and is arguably transcendent? Cheesecake Factory, which inked a 20-year lease for the massive, 340-seat space near the White House, according to Washington Business Journal.
The shift seemed symbolic to some in a city with a fierce independent restaurant streak. The demise of a local spot from a pioneering restaurateur whose first restaurant, Vidalia, lasted more than two decades and produced a generation of fine dining chefs. The escalation of real estate prices and operational costs so that only Big Cheesecake could afford them. The influx of tourists, who will “descend upon it like locusts,” per one Popville commenter. “The sounds of disappointment,” per another, that “rippled through our office like a baseball stadium wave of sadness.”
Finally, a small business filling a need. oh joy https://t.co/lNsiKrqSpC
— Kathy (@tittergrrl) February 1, 2021
But here’s the thing: a lot of people really like Cheesecake Factory in all of its 250-menu-item-glory. And a lot of people like to front like snobs on the internet while secretly relishing in a face-size platter of Chicken Bellagio offline (no judgement on the latter). Fast forward to the hellscape that is early 2021, and the opening of a big restaurant downtown—among the hardest hit neighborhoods, business-wise, between the pandemic, loss of tourism and office traffic, and recent riots—doesn’t seem to be the worst thing.
Alethea Rowe, senior director of public relations for The Cheesecake Factory Inc., says the company has adopted several pandemic-era policies. If indoor dining is permitted, guests will find glass partitions between booths and a high-tech bipolar ionization air purification system that’s been proven to reduce pathogens. Additional benefits are also being provided to staff members, including hourly staff, who’re all offered paid time off (an anomaly in the industry). In the pandemic, the company started offering free mental health support through Doctor on Demand for all employees, and free learning resources and live tutoring services for staffers’ children. The new location is currently looking to hire around 275 “hospitality-minded individuals” across the restaurant spectrum in DC, from line cooks and dishwashers to bartenders and hosts.
And as for the tourists? Hopefully they’ll descend soon, and when they do, let them eat cheesecake.
This story has been updated with additional comment from the Cheesecake Factory.
*Correction: there’s another DC Cheesecake Factory in Chevy Chase.