What’s it like to run a restaurant in a competitive market like Arlington? Four prominent local restaurant owners sat down with Sarah Fraser and ARLnow.com to discuss the business at our ARLnow Presents event last month, just after the big blizzard.
The full video from the event, courtesy of Arlington Independent Media, is above. The following are some of the interesting insights from the evening’s program.
What are some of the challenges in running a restaurant in Arlington?
Javier Candon, SER: “In Arlington, the biggest challenge, I think is the mentality, and proximity to the city. A lot of Arlington residents when they are having a real date night, they go to D.C.”
Does local government make it difficult to open a restaurant?
Mark Fedorchak, Liberty Tavern: “I think that Arlington county is pretty aware of the issue, but it is pretty difficult to open a restaurant with permits, and time. Every single day that you are paying rent waiting for permits, your are losing money.”
What’s more difficult, attracting customers when you first open, or keeping them?
Tim Ma, Water & Wall: “Everybody was coming through the door on day one, two years later, it’s all about retention. Staying relevant is probably the hardest thing. There’s so many new restaurants opening, so many different areas coming back to life, staying relevant is hard. Keeping the food good keeps people coming back.”
How do you feel about Yelp?
Mikala Brennan, Hula Girl Bar and Grill: “I think that as an opening restaurant you have to look at it and see if there’s trends happening. I think as chefs and owners we tend to take things a little personal sometimes. It’s sometimes hard not to respond immediately my GM reads them first and decides if there’s something I need to respond to immediately. I’ll be honest I think it’s relevant, but there is some things that are nit picky and irrelevant. I want to listen to people’s critiques, people that really want to tell you how they’re experience was sometimes email you, which I can respond to faster.”
How do you feel about new restaurants opening?
Scott Parker, A-Town Bar and Grill: “Arlington is in a very transitional time right now. Having two venues that are getting older and older, I wish new restaurants would open in Ballston, we don’t get the foot traffic that they get in Clarendon.”
How do you feel about bar crawls? Will we see more restrictions on them in the future?
Mark Fedorchak: “We are pro bar crawl, it’s been proven that they can be done in a controlled manner where they set a limit on the number of participants. While we don’t participate in them, it’s good for business across the board. They bring new guests from D.C. to Arlington.
What do you know now that you knew you wish you knew earlier?
Javier Candon: “How hard it is. Being there every single day, I took a break from being on the floor every day, and I think I forgot just how hard it is to be there seven days a week.”
How do you attract regular customers and locals?
Mikala Brennan: “We have a lot of residential people in the Shirlington area, and we find that they want to come in, they want to live there and support local business. So for us it’s important that we take care of neighborhood people. Making sure that they understand it’s okay to bring their kids in, it’s okay for them their kids to throw Cheerios on the ground, and do whatever they need to do. We want them to know it’s okay for them to come in with a shirt and flip flops on but if they want to wear a suit that’s fine too. We want to welcome everyone in.”
What have you found to love about being a restaurant and small business owner?
Scott Parker: “It’s just something you can’t describe, it’s grueling, late nights, long days. To be able to look around and see one of you venues packed, people smiling, enjoying your food and drink, in that moment it’s not about the money, it’s so thrilling.”
Thank you to our participants and to A-Town Bar and Grill for housing us. Look out for details about the March ARLnow Presents event, which will be held in Crystal City and will focus on Arlington’s burgeoning tech scene.
Quotes compiled by Justin Funkhouser.