69°Scattered Clouds

American Flatbread Closing

by ARLnow.com — December 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm 5,159 107 Comments

Washington restaurant maven Don Rockwell is reporting via Twitter that American Flatbread in Clarendon will be closing for good on Christmas Eve.

In an article about the pizza restaurant published earlier today, Rockwell discussed the lack of customers at Flatbread, which sits two blocks away from Clarendon’s main Wilson Boulevard drag.

American Flatbread is too honorable for the Clarendon neighborhood, quite frankly.  They walk the walk when it comes to honoring sustainable agriculture, local farming, and quality ingredients.  Unfortunately, without a critical mass of customers, American Flatbread itself may not be sustainable.

Flatbread suffered a major setback this summer when the county board denied its request to open an outdoor dining patio (limited sidewalk seating was approved instead).

Reached by phone this evening, owner Scott Vasko refused to confirm or deny Rockwell’s reporting.

Update at 5:30 p.m. — Vasko sent the following email to customers tonight:

Dear Friends & Loyal Guests,

It is with a heavy, heavy heart that I need to let you know that we will be ceasing operations at American Flatbread Clarendon Hearth as of Christmas Eve. The forced closing is the result of a number of factors including, but not limited to: severe issues with the environmental system, the dramatic loss of business from the outdoor seating debacle, and; a poor relationship with a very adversarial landlord.

Unfortunately, we do not have any options. The landlord has forced us out. The fact that they are doing it before Christmas – gives you an idea of what it’s been like to deal with them. We are hoping to get the word out quickly so we can go out with a bang. We are hoping to generate as much revenue for the staff as possible before we close – starting tonight! So please come out and send us out BIG! We plan on maintaining regular hours until we close next Friday. So, please come out to say good-bye, share some stories, share a laugh and share a tear, and a drink or…

Thank you for loyal support.

Janice, Evan, and I are deeply appreciative.

Hat tip to EatMore DrinkMore

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  • E

    Thank you townhome community…I hope someone opens a strip joint in the space. Flatbread was good eats with a good underlying mission. I guess we’re stuck with frozen dough and mega-chains, thank you townhome community and your corruption of the board.

    • diane

      *thumbs-up*

    • TGEoA

      Now only if the nasty kebob places would follow suit. GET OUT.

      • KalashniKEV

        I hope this is sarcasm… E-W Grill is awesome.

        • Afghan Food is Amazing

          Word and Afghan Kabob is delicious and cheap. I think stuff whitebread cheescake factory regulars should get out

          • KalashniKEV

            -1 Afghan Kabob sucks. I tried it twice to give it a chance, but now I walk right past it on my way to E-W.

    • Darwin

      I hope like in Olde Town Alexandria after they screwed the guy opening trying to open an outdoor outfitter shop that they open up a sex shop and wreck the neighborhood!

      • KalashniKEV

        +1 I LOVE everything about that story.

      • KalashniKEV

        Except that Michael Z in that story got strung along, while AFB probably either took the landlord’s word for it or thought they could change the counties mind after moving in.

      • http://media-addict.blogspot.com/ Daniel

        Meh, how would a sex shop screw the neighborhood? It would be good to have some diversity (and amusing to see how the county reacts to it).

  • Laura

    I just received an email from them confirming that they’re closing =( Sounds like along w/ the outdoor seating debacle there was also some bad blood w/ the landlord and they’re being forced out. Sad to see them go!

    • Ross

      Lets face, the location was poor. Walkin traffic must have been around nil. We only found the place because of Artisan Chocolate being down the street. Their menu was nice, but it always seemed like it was off by this >< much. It needed the outdoor seating. The indoor space was dark and cold. It didn't seem as if they did very much to get their name out there either. So maybe this had a little less to do with the people of north Arlington walking the walk.

  • diane

    Yes, we’ll it seems like the landlord wasn’t truthful with them about the outdoor seating zoning. So that’s understandable.

  • QPGirl

    Very sad to see them go – good food, nice people, and not a big chain. We’ll definitely be visiting them this weekend!

  • Amber

    Possible they’ll find a new home in Arlington?

  • CW

    Well, they, along with most other places in the area, have done zero to market or brand themselves or to attract customers. It seems most places in the area use the business model of 1) obtain property in clarendon, 2) open doors, 3) rake in cash. It’s a pretty easy model when you have the foot traffic to sustain it. Unfortunately, even 2 blocks off the main drag, when the foot traffic drops to nil, you might have to actually start doing something to get your name in people’s minds. Aside from getting embroiled in huge legal battles, that is. Flatbread was a good place, and no more overpriced or snotty than any of the other “gourmet” pizza places, but it did nothing to build its brand. In what is quickly becoming a saturated market, you need to find a way to stand out.

    • The Dope of South Arlington

      It’s true. I wouldn’t have even known it was there if I didn’t read ArlNow.

      • Jane

        I live in North Arlington and this is the first I have heard of them.

      • rft

        their legal disputes over the outdoor seating is how I heard about them, and it got me in there once with a large group; the food was good, but the service was a little lacking

  • Novanglus

    If the problem were economic viability because of the lack of patio, they’d be able to stay open through the winter. No, despite great food, there were bigger management problems here — and it was evident each time I went there.

    • me, me, me

      +1

  • SoArlRes

    Sad for Flatbread that they couldn’t make it, sad for Clarendon for losing a non-chain establishment with character, sad for the area residents who may get something they like even less in that space, and sad for the landlord he / she loses a paying tenant. Too bad all involved couldn’t make something work.

  • Val

    I agree about the lack of marketing. I had no idea they had a sustainable/local approach. Unfortunately, that condo cavern is not somewhere I linger, so not sure foot traffic could have saved it.

  • NorthAdams

    sorry to see them go.
    perfect example of a great idea but not excellent execution and now the County gets blamed. sounds familiar.

  • Thes

    Sorry it didn’t work out. Ate there quite a few times before the owner started publicly attacking his neighbors/customers in print. It does appear he was mislead when he signed his lease — if he can prove it, I hope he wins in court.

    Then again, it can be hard to make money in the restaurant business if you’re not open for lunch most days. Hopefully the next business to go in there will get a better lease and have a less delicate business model.

    Some restaurants deserve to fail but don’t (like La Tasca) and others deserve to succeed but fail (like Camille’s). There are several other wonderful businesses on that block that I hope be in neither category, but instead will succeed.

    • Ernesto

      why should La Tosca fail?
      it is a good restaurant.

      • AllenB

        That place is awful… if you want good tapas, go to Jaleo.

      • rft

        mediocre food at best

        • Katie

          Agreed. La Tasca sells garbage. I had lunch at Screwtop today and noticed that Flatbread is only open at night and thought that odd for a pizza place.

          • Ross

            La Tasca is horrible, bland food with sub par service. Jaelo is medicore to way sub par food with a terrbily loud ambiance. What they call paella, I wouldn’t serve to Michael Vick. And then there is Gua Rapo which continues to slide into the abyss of mediocraty and over priced watered down drinks.

  • Lola

    Too bad! I always liked American Flatbread, and their pizza (in addition to being sustainable and local) tasted waaay better than Fireworks (bleh). I know Pete’s is coming to Clarendon, but I thought American Flatbread was really special. I don’t think this can be blamed on the County or on the townhouses for not wanting the outdoor seating (I wouldn’t have wanted it if I lived there). The location just wasn’t the best and they weren’t busy enough. I hope they reopen somewhere else. I would even drive for the pleasure.

  • Glebe

    I’m definately not typically a defender of the County Board, but why is it their fault? Shouldnt have ownership done its due diligence on the liklihood of the outdoor seating? Honestly, you cant blame anyone but ownership – sounds like they picked a craptacular location.

    • Lou

      Anybody who actually watched the Board meeting that dealt with this business and their seating request could not be faulting the Board with a straight face. They handled it well.

    • Zoning Victim

      I’m with you. If not getting a patio approved is enough to torpedo someone’s entire business, then their business is obviously at risk and you should always mitigate whatever risks there are before going into business. If that’s really true, then it was a stupid business model to begin with. The county is free to outlaw patio seating any time they wish, and we can tell from their former actions that negative impacts to the local businesses don’t stop them from doing certain things.

      • DCCHughes

        Do you even live in Clarendon?!?! Anyone who spends any time in Clarendon will see how absolutely critical it is to have outdoor seating, especially when EVERYWHERE else does. In most cases outdoor seating doubles the capacity of a restaurant, and does so in those critical spring, early summer, and fall periods when the most foot traffic is occurring. Then, people who ate someplace during the summer comes back in the winter. It’s entirely plausible that lack of outdoor seating could shut a place down in Clarendon.

        • ballston

          or it was the $22 pizzas.

          • Katie

            Outdoor seating might keep places like Mexicali Blues alive, but the lack of it won’t ruin a good restaurant.

            Lyon Hall has minimal outdoor seating–it’s hopping either way.

  • Anon

    This sucks. Really, really sucks.

    Dumb question: can anything take its place besides pizza? That big clay oven in the middle of the restaurant doesn’t look too easy to move.

  • fluidj

    Plain and simple, they were overpriced for what they were selling.
    Even gourmet pizza joints don’t try and gouge the customer the way that place was doing in the name of being “green”.

    • JJ

      While I don’t mind paying for quality, I went in shortly after it opened to pick up a salad and pizza for dinner. My carryout bill was somewhere above $30, and I said never again. Yes, the ingredients were very high quality and their “green/local” approach is better than Papa John’s, but it’s not $20 better. Even people in Clarendon have budgets…

      • mrlogical

        Agreed. I paid ~$60 for 2 pizzas and a few beers. I could’ve gotten the same for $20 at any number of other pizza places and cut a $20 check to Greenpeace and still have saved money.

        • Aaron

          Have to get on that bandwagon. I went it once for lunch on a Saturday to a dead place ..Service was ehh, iced tea was not fresh and pizza was overpriced for what it was. The flavors just didn’t work. Never went back after.

          Yet, it’s still sad to see a business go out of business and obviously a loss for the presumably hard-working owner

          • Paul

            More agreement, I said this before they even opened based on their menus elsewhere. Hopefully this is a hard lesson to future small businesses that they have to peg their prices onto the actual, local supply-and-demand curves – they are not above capitalism, just as they are venturing into it (rather than, say, saving the planet one pizza pie at a time).

            Rest assured, this business failure has nothing to do with the lack of a patio. It is this:

            http://americanflatbread.com/restaurants/clarendon-va/clarendon-menu

            You read that right: $21.99 for a small pizza.

    • mehoo

      They made a good product, but they were overpriced and had a bad location. They probably would have failed even with outdoor seating.

    • Zoning Victim

      All these comments are exactly why the “walk the walk” comment was made. The words organic/sustainable and overpriced just go together where as gourmet and pizze just don’t. No matter how you slice it, it’s still dough, sauce and cheese with some other items thrown on top.

  • Locavore

    The pizza was great but there was something wrong with the management of the place that made me think of it as a carryout place only. Others I’ve talked to agree.. Still sad to see great pizza going, but I’m not surprised.

    • rft

      I think that’s a problem with the layout; you can’t see the dining area from the front of the store

  • mrlogical

    I’m sorry for this business owner losing his business. Too bad it didn’t work out, best of luck in the future.

    But good lord the full article from DCdining is a real eye-rollercoaster. Sustainable! Local! Organic! Honorable! What a load of passive-aggressive, pretentious horseshit (but from farm-raised horses). Maybe the restaurant would have done better if people who supported it had used adjectives to describe the food that couldn’t also be applied to a hemp backpack available at the farmer’s market. Like, for example, anything relating to how the food tasted. The closest Rockwell’s rant comes to praising the actual *taste* of the food is when he notes that one appetizer “could have seen a bit more time,” but perhaps even that is just because it’s biodegradable and would help out in the compost heap. I’m sad to see a well-intentioned business fail, but the “this town doesn’t deserve such a shining beacon of environmentalism” attitude certainly isn’t making me regret not giving the restaurant a second chance.

  • tuesdayschild

    Sette Bello and Flatbread are both out of business. And yet Cheesecake Factory lives on!! The cosmic gods are toying with us!!!

    • Novanglus

      Yeah, I’m amazed at how many people think the Cheesecake Factory is the holy grail of restaurants. But if you like high quantities of mediocre food with slow service and ridiculous waits for tables, there’s none better.

      • TGEoA

        The biggest problem with CF is that the menu is the size of a god damned phone book. And most of the items are just repeats with a different protein and they give it a whole new name.

        • mehoo

          “most of the items are just repeats with a different protein and they give it a whole new name.”

          Sounds awesome to me. Mmmmmm, protein.

      • KalashniKEV

        I LOVE CF!!! I think the food is great there and I love large quantities. The Strawberries and Cream dessert is like 2.5 lbs of strawberries!!!!!

    • AllenB

      I get the impression that the CF draws a lot of its business from outside of Arlington, people who see it as a destination and don’t know about the other restaurants in Arlington.

      Also, I had a conversation a while back with a former CF host who moved on to a different restaurant in Arlington and he said that while the CF okay here, it’s one of the lowest grossing restaurants in the CF chain.

      • rft

        I think the Clarendon CF might be smaller than the average CF, isn’t it?

        • AllenB

          I don’t know how the size compares, he just said it was relatively a poor performer compared to their other places.

          • Katie

            Absolutely. I can’t count how many times I’ve had people (huge) exit the metro, look around, and ask me “where is the Cheesecake Factory?!!!!”

            It’s a few blocks that way…”I hafta walk?!”

          • mehoo

            You stand around at the Metro waiting to give people directions, Katie?

          • KalashniKEV

            You should go with them and get some Tex Mex Egg Rolls MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!

    • a’town

      and also you cant get anything on that menu under 1,000 calories. No wonder everyone in the suburbs is fat.

  • RJ

    I don’t like to see places go out of business, but quite honestly, I didn’t think the pizza there was very good, despite the sustainable ingredients, etc.

    • Andrew

      +1 Pizza was ok, but not as good as other nearby offerings. It was also extremely expensive for what you got. Even if it was awesome pizza, I would have a hard time going back because of the cost.

  • MC

    Sad yes. Flatbread tried to be the commercial anchor for a street that wasn’t entirely commercial and didn’t get the walkthrough traffic. The wine bar next door had the sign police after them, and Flatbread had the outdoor seating fiasco. One clear lesson is that social engineering by County employees can’t achieve much if you kill private investment.

    Flatbread also faced much competition on the horizon, and would have been smart to diversify their offerings here. Their salads were better than their pizza, in IMHO (pizza was a tad greasy, organic or not). They didn’t put up a commercial fight – closed at lunchtime, too focused on shared pizza, rather than serving individuals. Sort of ironic that the Flatbread chain hails from Vermont, a place culturally that is about as inflexible in how they do business as the County Board is. Anyone who believes that the world needs to operate on their terms alone will end up disappointed.

    • AllenB

      Riiight…. it’s the county governments fault that they couldn’t sell a $22 pizza to many people.

  • Kitty

    I’m not too sorry to see them gone. I went there one time for lunch on a Saturday. There was no one else there, but I still got bad service even while sitting at the bar. The lack of outdoor seating doesn’t matter if you can’t even get people in the door. Turns out you can’t send mass emails insulting your neighbors (and best marketing prospects) and expect to stay in business.

  • Not Sad

    I’m not sad at all to see them go. I thought the food was mediocre and expensive for what you got and once the owner started bashing the neighbors that was it for me.

  • TGEoA

    Dear God,

    Thank you for closing Flatbread. In it’s place, please put in a Waffle House.

    Love,

    The Grand Emperor of Arlington

    • AllenB

      Or a great chinese take out.

      • TGEoA

        That place is too fancy to grow good Chinese food.

        • Rick

          Or a wawa.

          • mehoo

            Nah, we desperately need an Olive Garden. Mmmmm, unlimited breadsticks.

          • Jenga

            Sheetz?

      • Ross

        Forget great, I would KILL for even a decent Chinese joint some place in DC.

        • ESlater

          Try Hong Kong Palace in Seven Corners, across the lot from the Dogfish Head.

          • V Dizzle

            Tea Noodle Rice is up to par, though not the cheapest.

    • ChrisW

      Waffle House indeed! You speak my language :)

  • North Highlands

    I was excited for this place back in 2009 when they gave out pizza at Clarendon Day. I even bought a Groupon to go there when it opened. Sadly, though, like the other commentators, I found it ridiculously expensive (even with a groupon!) and decided not to go back.

  • Bender

    Wasn’t the first, won’t be the last. The area might be doing OK for now, but restaurant/bar density is way too high. In a year or two, customers will either tire of the same old, same old, or they will simply tire of spending their money dining and drinking out. Too many places in too small an area. The bubble will burst, more places will close. Rents will remain high, spots will sit empty.

    It simply is not sustainable. The growth was artificial, rather than being pushed by market demand, people naturally moving there on their own, the growth was all the result of ideological government and greedy developers (if you build it, they will come). But eventually natural market forces reassert themselves and the boom collapses.

    • Suburban Not Urban

      +1 – Wash and repeat in EFC

    • mehoo

      We’ll see.

  • Arlingtron

    Sorry to see them go too. Been there a few times. Agreed that the pizza was priced too high, no individual servings. Perhaps serve more than pizza? Seems that’s all that’s being offered by new restaurants. I am all for the local/natural ingredients. Should have played that up. Bad deal on the outdoor seating but that was never allowed. I would say that the two blocks away from the main drag was leading reason for not having sustainable traffic. Should have worked other marketing and social media to get feet in the door. Oh, and don’t close when people want to eat, like for lunch. Go back to Vermont and regroup.

    • mkt common

      Agreed about the lack of menu choices. I live next door and visited several times. I liked the atmosphere, tolerated the meh service (seriously didn’t know that being organic was part of the point tho…), but each time, I wished for a decent salad or some lighter variation of the pizza. Eating there was seriously carb overload. The pizza was all bread and light on toppings. Some of the appetizers were really just the pizza bread sliced for dipping. Meaning that we would go only 1 out of the every 3 times my husband with the killer metabolism would suggest going there. There just weren’t menu options for me. OTOH, since I just picked at the food, I was able to enjoy that nice Malbec they kept in stock and usually left dinner there delightfully tipsy!

  • Bob

    Is this really some sort of tragedy? The owners picked a riskier location for cheaper rent. The owners then failed to do their due diligence with regard to county ordinances on using the sidewalk, and in understanding the terms of the lease. Then they expect that because they are “organic”, that they should get a special dispensation.

    Look, I own Calvert investments, and I buy organic fruits and vegetables from Washington’s Green Grocer. I refuse to set foot in Whole Foods because of their anti-union proclivities. In other words, I’m no Republican laughing at the granola people.

    But at some point, you can’t just say you are “organic” or “progressive”, and then fail to do the basic common-sense things you need to do to run a business. Did American Flatbread really do that? Doesn’t sound like it.

  • Dave

    Definitely upsetting news. I agreed with their mission and values, but not at their sky high prices for itty bitty pizzas. Fireworks is much better for the money in my opinon and has a better atmosphere and better beer plus they are local (Leesburg) and not a small chain like Flatbread which I appreciate. Don’t try to put this in Arlingtonites for not ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to sustainability. You were too expensive (for the quality and product) didn’t advertise, and had a poor location.

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  • KalashniKEV

    Who cares?
    1) Stupid Name.
    2) Overpriced.
    3) Crappy location.
    4) 4th best pizza in the immediate area?

    Gee… I wonder why they weren’t incredibly successful?

    • BuckKEVtwotime

      This last comment is very angry. I think this might be one of the occations where you find the “yuppy,to good for anything” type of person who has no credit what so ever. I have read through most of these comments and this person is either doing it for fun or thinks he has a pallet. I am sorry to see Flatbread go..Clarendon can afford a place like this and I know by the amount of BMWs and rent prices in the area. Take your “better than everything”` attitude to NYC where people might actually care and get off this board!

  • Clarendruid

    I always find it sad when an entrepreneur fails. The competative environment wasn’t going to get any better for this one though, with Pete’s APizza opening in a steller location only a couple blocks away. For a restaurant to work at this location it has to be more unique. Either great cheap eats, or something else. Screwtop seems to be doing OK and that is good. Just had a Bakeshop cake 2 days ago and it was awesome. As far as walking the walk, several Clarendon restaurants source ingredients from local farms. Personally, I’d like to see a store like Ayers Variety. We’ve got enough food options.

    • Katie

      Screwtop has great staff. I always feel welcome there, whether alone or with friends.

      Their sandwiches and wines by the glass are mighty pricey, but they are quite good.

  • Aaron

    The business model was just a flat-out failure. The American Flatbread in Burlington (VT) doesn’t succeed because of their overpriced average pizza or their commitment to the yuppie/hipster locavore trend, but because they have really good brewed-on-the-premises microbrews to accompany a really impressive list of other microbrews on draft. I have no idea why they thought they could drop the beer from their strategy and still stay make it work.

    • mehoo

      That explains alot.

  • Paul

    So, in sum: Everybody thinks American Flatbread was a price-gouger doomed to fail. Pete’s APizza – pay attention! Your pizzas start at $23.95:

    http://petesapizza.com/apizza.html

    • Aaron

      Yet, Pete’s sells by the slice and is actually good. At Flatbread, I paid $22 to get some ingredients that didn’t work together along with awful service in an empty restaurant.

    • jenn

      bear in mind that pete’s is delicious, is actually a passable replica of real new haven pizza, and is doing great up in columbia heights right now. plus those pizzas are huge (18″), and they do sell by the slice as well. i live in south arlington and have family in fairfax county (including a mother from new haven), and i’m so excited to not have to go all the way to columbia heights for pete’s once the new one opens in clarendon! looking forward to making it my regular pizza place, rather than a destination event.

  • Hank Hill

    Food was not good. I am not going to pay more for “green” food. Can’t wait for Pete’s for open.

  • Clarendon neighbor

    I agree–its easy to blame it on the landlord but if your food was well-priced and out of this world, business wouldn’t depend on outdoor seating. I was disappointed in the pricey pizzas which were greasy and otherwise average. Z Pizza, for half the price, is much tastier. The location makes it a bit more challenging, but again if your product is irrestible and you market people will walk two more blocks. I think a Panera would do well there. Not much in the way of casual, lunch/sandwich places.

    • KalashniKEV

      +1 for Panera

      • R.Griffon

        +2

        Good, fast (and often healthy) eats, low prices, free WiFi AND bottomless coffee? I love that place! This is a chain that Clarendon could really use.

    • Jonathan

      Panera or Potbelly would be great.

  • not impressed

    I went there a few times, and have to agree-food not that good, and overpriced, but sad to see anyone’s business close.
    How about a Potbelliy’s?! Just too far off the beaten track, I think–tho Screwtop seems to be making it work. Maybe some new Ray’s kinda place-a destination.

  • Westoverite

    I liked American Flatbread…excellent beers on tap, good pizza, and friendly staff…I would be very sad to see the space occupied by some chain that can be found elsewhere.

  • muckraker

    I liked it, but agree that the location is ridiculously bad. They should come to Shirlington! We desperately need a pizza sit-down place!

  • http://img262.imageshack.us/i/flatbread.jpg/ Scott Vasko
  • pquinn

    No big loss. The food was mediocre at best, the presentation was horrible and it was wildly over-priced, even factoring in the cost of local and organic ingredients. I don’t know the full extent of the problems with building management etc. but there were clearly some problems with the restaurants management. We were very put off by the “host” who was rude and surly. When we mentioned this to our server he informed us that that was the owner and he is”always like that”. Wow. Must have been a joy to work for/with. I hope a new place moves in that doesn’t suck.

  • former neighbor

    Terribly unfortunate, great beer and better people, especially Gina!

  • Jteows

    Wow, Sad to see it close. I always liked talking the Gina (Bartender) and Evan the head Chef. They seemed like young hard workers making their way in the world. I loved that they had flying dog on tap as well as the natural sugar sodas. However, I am not surprised they are going out of business. The owner was arrogant, rude and insulted his very own local customer base. I asked every server I ever had about him. While they obviously could not say anything about him that was directly disparaging. I always got answers like “he works a lot” or “that is just how he is.” Living is such a friendly place like Claredon, I would expect a more friendly owner. I hope a new business moves in with an owner that treats his staff well, and is friendly to the whole neighborhood.

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