Old Ebbitt Grill brought to its knees by the pandemic

During a normal year, Mother’s Day Sunday would be a day to look forward to for the Old Ebbitt Grill in Northwest Washington.

“Mother’s Day is typically the biggest day of the year for us,” said John McDonnell, the chief operating officer of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which owns the restaurant.

But this is not a typical year, and the coronavirus pandemic has led to staggering financial losses for the legendary D.C. restaurant.

“We’re doing about 5% of the sales that we typically do,” McDonnell said. “The Ebbitt is obviously a high volume and very large full-service restaurant and that’s the category that’s suffering the most right now.”

The restaurant’s business has slowed to a crawl as it tries to offer carryout options.

But, as McDonnell noted, the Old Ebbitt Grill is just not built for carryout and casual, fast service.

“We’re not running at a rate which is long-term sustainable,” McDonnell said. “We’re simply doing the best we can to make it to the other side.”

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For now, the restaurant has laid off more than 240 employees, which is about 85% of its staff.

But it is working to continue giving them 100% of their pay, even as they remain sidelined.

“That’s going to be a couple of millions of dollars of debt that’s going to be on our balance sheets on the other side of this,” McDonnell said.

One reason for that is the fact that Clyde’s Restaurant Group decided not to apply for the Small Business Administration’s “Paycheck Protection Program,” which provides forgivable loans to businesses.

The federal program is supposed to give financial assistance to smaller businesses, and McDonnell said his group, which operates a dozen restaurants in the D.C. region, does not really fit into that category.

“We do have access to capital and we can fight our way through this,” said McDonnell. “We just felt it was better to leave that money to the small businesses.”

The Old Ebbitt Grill, which was originally founded in 1856 and is regarded as D.C.’s oldest restaurant, is famous for serving celebrities, presidents, other dignitaries and scores of tourists.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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