Restaurant resurgence in Georgetown

WASHINGTON — There has been a bit of a restaurant renaissance in Georgetown this year, reversing what had become a mini-exodus of restaurants from the Georgetown area in recent years.

It hasn’t been just newbies that have pulled out. Starting several years ago and continuing recently, Georgetown stalwarts from The Guards, to Old Glory, Nathan’s, Pier 2934, Bistro Francias and Morton’s Steakhouse have all disappeared after decades of serving diners in Georgetown.

Rising rents had been the main culprit for restaurant owners pulling out of one of D.C.’s top tier retail neighborhoods.

“Five years ago when we saw so many of these places closing down and rents were going up, and all that was releasing that space was apparel and retail, Andy Corno, at commercial real estate firm JLL, told WTOP.

“Now what we’re seeing is a very, very healthy balance of restaurants along with apparel and retail opening,” he said.

In 2017, nine new restaurants opened in Georgetown. So far this year 26 have opened or soon will.

There are a couple of reasons for the turnaround.

“It’s due to the fact that the rents have kind of leveled off. It’s due to the lift of the moratorium on liquor licenses in Georgetown. That has attracted more chefs and restaurant groups to come in and say ‘we can actually do something here,’” Corno said.

D.C. celebrity chef Jose Andres is among chefs who have decided to test the waters in Georgetown, opening an outpost of his America Eats Tavern in M Street space vacated by Old Glory.

“We feel America Eats Tavern being a part of the community in Georgetown is exactly where we want to be,” said Eric Martino, chief operating officer at Andres’ ThinkGoodGroup.

“We are excited to be a part of a great collection of restaurants and look forward to being a part of the elevation of restaurant experiences in Georgetown.”

Georgetown rents have been historically as much as 300 percent higher than other submarkets.

They are closer to 150 percent higher now, still a high entry price, but JLL says landlords are offering more lenient lease terms and that flexibility and an energized renovation process has made Georgetown more attractive to restaurant owners again.

Georgetown posts a 7.3 percent storefront vacancy rate across 475 storefronts, most of which is available along M Street.

In 2018, more than 50 percent of vacant spaces have undergone, or are undergoing, renovation due to open dialogue between residents and landlords.

JLL also notes that, while Georgetown has previously been undeserved by affordable dining options, quick serve and coffee shop net openings have outpaced other restaurant openings over the last year.

Apparel and accessories retailers, which comprise 27 percent of Georgetown storefronts, are not projected to outpace 2017 growth this year. Dining, however, is expected to increase its share of storefronts, and 62 percent of announced dining openings in 2018 have been new tenants to the D.C. market.

Below is an infographic, courtesy JLL, showing 2017 and 2018 retail and restaurant openings in Georgetown:

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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