Ben’s Chili Bowl competition may also save Trinidad eatery

Paul D. Shinkman,
Twitter: @ShinkmanWTOP

WASHINGTON – The former Ben’s Chili Bowl manager who is starting a competing eatery in D.C. may also pick up the mantle of another culinary endeavor.

The Capital City Diner, housed in a silver diner car on Bladensburg Road in Northeast, closed this January citing rising costs, a declining economy and competition from the new Denny’s a few blocks away. Founders and roommates Matt Ashburn and Patrick Carl trucked the car to its current location on the easternmost border of the Trinidad neighborhood in late spring 2009 to offer a safe community hub for the dilapidated, food-deserted neighborhood.

Anthony Ulysses Holmon, whose D.C. Chili Bowl is already catering to businesses while it looks for a permanent location, says he would love to reopen the dining car’s doors after all the work its owners put into it.

“It’s a great location to do what I want to do,” he tells WTOP. “Knowing how much Matt put into that place, it’s a shame to see it closed.”

Holmon is looking at other restaurant venues in the area, one directly across the street and another on H Street, where Ben’s Chili Bowl plans to open a franchise expansion.

Capital City Diner greased its griddles for the last time on Jan. 29. The owners closed the restaurant to “reformat and improve our concept,” according to their website.

Ashburn is open to selling or renting the space, though he hopes the new occupants would keep up with his original ambition to revitalize the neighborhood.

“I live in the neighborhood, I want to see something good come to the neighborhood,” he says. “In that regard we were successful, we were able to bring some development to Bladensburg Road.”

But the first-time restauranteur cautions any potential replacement: It’s difficult to make a small business work in that part of town, particularly when up against a national brand like Denny’s.

“It’s a tough road to do business on,” he says. “It’s tough to find something that will work.”

Ashburn has already received offers to purchase the diner car and move it out of the city, a familiar tale after he purchased it from upstate New York on eBay and trucked it to D.C. He says he would hate for the diner to leave the city, “but it’s all about survival.”

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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