Heaps of new customers have been saying g’day to Oz restaurant in Clarendon over the past year, its owners say.
Contrary to its portrayal on the new Real Housewives of Potomac season — a teaser video showed proprietors Ashley and Michael Darby arguing about it “not doing well” — Oz (2950 Clarendon Blvd) is currently a profitable business, according to Mr. Darby.
The argument happened in real life on June 22, 2016. Since then, Oz’s brunch business has boomed and helped reverse its fortunes. And a revamped food menu has been greeted with generally positive customer reviews.
That’s a welcome change from when the Washington Post panned Oz’s Australian cuisine as “bland,” shortly after it opened in September 2015, and locals took note of the empty tables one could see inside around dinnertime.
Darby, the Australian-born cofounder of D.C. developer Monumental Realty, admits that things were “not up to scratch” when Oz opened, but said issues with the service and the food have since been corrected. What viewers see at the beginning of “RHOP” season two is part of the restaurant’s “rebuilding” stage.
“We made a significant change that has brought about the success we’re having now,” Darby said. “Over the course of the show, you will find that the restaurant turns that corner and becomes the busy restaurant we have today.”
The other half of the power couple, Ashley Darby — a former Miss District of Columbia who is active in the restaurant’s day-to-day management in between her Instagram-chronicled globetrotting — echoed Michael’s words.
“America witnessed my candid reaction to the growing pains we were experiencing at Oz during the RHOP premiere, filmed last year,” she said. “It has taken some time to find our groove in the trendy Clarendon neighborhood, but we’re really getting into the swing of it. Our weekends are so busy I barely get time to sit down.”
Oz’s $35 bottomless brunch — with unlimited food, penny mimosas, 50 cent beers and $2 bloody marys — has packed them in, according to Michael Darby. Some 500 customers a day visit Oz on the weekends, he said. And the restaurant has high hopes for increasing its weekday bar business and becoming more of a nighttime going-out destination on weekends.
“This is a very fun bar, we have that Australian attitude,” Darby said. Oz is proud of its craft cocktail menu and Australian wine selection; it now brings in a DJ on Saturday nights and, yes, you can order didgeridoo shots, if so inclined.
Darby credits the chef they brought on after the “mediocre” opening for being a big part of Oz’s transformation. Chef Brad Feickert, a tattooed Northern Virginia native who worked for celebrity chefs and also spent time at restaurants in Australia, has created an Australian-influenced menu adjusted for American palates.
“The quality of the food improved significantly when he came in,” Darby said. “The chef is just a good chef, that’s what it comes down to.”
The menu, which is ever evolving, includes both Australian and American staples, along with culinary mashups and exotic meats, including kangaroo, camel and ostrich. (It’s not exotic, but Darby recommends the Australian lamb.)
Just don’t confuse Oz with that well-known “Australian” restaurant chain — needless to say, there are no bloomin’ onions on the menu.
“We’re not Outback Steakhouse in any way,” Darby said. Outback is “not even an Australian product.”
Darby said Oz’s evolution is the result of hard work and persistence. It’s not a question of whether Oz would succeed — online critics predicted its imminent demise early on — but when it would succeed.
“I’m a person who likes to succeed,” he said. “Success for me, I like it to be instantaneous, although it doesn’t always happen that way.”
“It was always going to be here for awhile because I’m one of the most stubborn people you’ll ever find,” he added. “The more people say something is not going to last, the more I’m going to make sure it’s going to stay here. And I have the financial resources to make sure it stays here forever, even if I lose money every day. I will not be closed down because people say stuff, we will find the way to improve our product if it needs to be improved.”
With Oz set for a more prominent role on RHOP season two — it was being planned but was not open in season one — might the restaurant see a big bump in business, a la the region’s other food-related reality show darling, Georgetown Cupcake? Maybe, but Darby is dubious about it.
“To be honest, I really only want people to come here to experience the good food, the great service and the good atmosphere,” he said. “I’m not that eager to have people come and line up to see people who might be on TV.”
What Darby is really hoping for is for Clarendon to step up its culinary game with more locally-grown restaurants and a stronger neighborhood promotion effort.
“The success of Clarendon needs to be tied to owners who live in area, know the area,” said Darby, who lives with Ashley in the Odyssey condo building he developed in Courthouse. “We welcome good restaurants… I don’t see this as competitive, it’s a good thing to pull people in here.”
The second season of the Real Housewives of Potomac premiered on Sunday. New episodes will air Sundays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.
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