Today GM turns back to another of his occasional series; this time it’s Our Town, where GM takes a closer look at one of the great little independent shops in Georgetown. Today’s Our Town: Wingo’s at 3207 O St.
A Bronx-born kid, Mike Arthur has always loved food. He worked in delis and caterers in New York before heading off to Michigan State. After college he settled in Washington and opened a bagel shop with his sister in 1995. After running the shop for five years, he had to sell the store to take care of his ailing father in 2000. Following his father’s death, Mike realized that he still had a passion for food and so he opened up Wingo’s nine years ago.
Obviously, the core of Wingo’s offerings is chicken wings. And that’s still the bulk of the restaurant’s orders. But the restaurant also offers a pretty big menu for a take-out joint, from breakfast items to over 20 different types of sandwiches (including the new Mongolian Beef sandwich).
“I wanted to do something I eat, I like” Mike told GM, “this is my food: wings, burgers, turkey burgers, salads, milkshakes. Maybe I just never grew up, but I relate to the kids better.” Being on the same wavelength, gastronomically, with college kids has ensured Wingo’s a loyal fanbase at Georgetown U. and GW. In fact, Georgetown Voice recently affirmed Wingo’s as the best wing purveyor in Georgetown.
But serving the late-night student population isn’t all Wingo’s does. A robust lunch crowd (mostly office workers in and around Georgetown) and the family crowd still make up a sizable portion of Wingo’s business.
And despite the wave of trends that wash upon Georgetown’s shore, Wingo’s keeps on doing what it’s always done. And now that a nascent burger trend is hitting Georgetown with Thunder Burger and Bill’s Burgers, Wingo’s will have the edge of experience.
“Things have changed over the last couple years,” Mike says, “what you see now is that customers get better service, better food, and better prices. A couple years ago if you didn’t like what I served, there were three more customers to replace you. Now you don’t have that, no one is there to replace you.” And Mike welcomes the competition, “I’ve got to do my food better. It’s makes us better.”
But Mike does have some concerns about the direction of Georgetown. “It’s becoming a food court. Retail can’t survive.” And more locally, Mike has seen O St. decline. “It used to be the best street in Georgetown after M and Wisconsin.” Now only five stores remain and the rest of the spaces are vacant. So instead of complaining about his own landlord’s rent, Mike worries that the landlords of the neighboring buildings are irrationally sitting on the empty properties. He wishes they’d lower the rents to encourage more mom and pop stores to get a foothold. Plus he wishes the BID would direct more of its resources to the side streets since they don’t get nearly the attention in terms of sidewalk cleaning and trash removal as M and Wisconsin do.
These worries aside, Mike’s passion still drives Wingo’s. In fact, he’s now walking around in a leg cast because three years ago he refused to take the time from work to have a leg injury looked at. In fact, he had broken his leg tripping on the streetcar tracks outside his restaurant. The bone healed wrong and after suffering more and more pain, he finally gave in and had it fixed recently. He promises not to make that mistake again, but his energy is hardly diminished despite the cast.
Wingo’s store itself is fun. Below the window there’s a mural (seen above) that was painted by a student at the Duke Ellington School. It depicts a bench (meant to mirror the one outside the store) and from left to right it includes: Barack Obama, Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington, Wingo’s employee Obe, Mike, Bill Clinton (who would surely have been a customer had Wingo’s existed in his GU days), Ben Franklin, George W. Bush, Alfred E. Newman, Richard Nixon, and Abraham Lincoln.
Also, on the store and in the tree outside the store are dozens of beads. Mike explains that years ago his mom sent him a bunch of beads, but he had no idea what to do with them. One day a father was buying lunch for his kids and they were getting impatient and restless waiting for their meal. Inspiration struck, and Mike handed them the beads and told them to throw them in the trees. It worked, they stopped whining. Now Mike has to order the beads from New Orleans and they coat the store and the tree. It’s like a little bit of St. Charles Ave. in Georgetown:
So stop on by Wingo’s if you don’t already. Or call them at 338-2478. It’s our town and this is our Wingo’s.