As one beloved neighborhood establishment has its head possibly added to the chopping block, another already on the chopping block is seeking a last minute reprieve. It has been long expected that Nathans Restaurant at the corner of M and Wisconsin would close this year. In fact, if a reprieve is not obtained the restaurant will close on March 31st. Owner Carol Joynt (bringer of the bad news about Scheele’s) has been very public about her plight to save Nathans. Notwithstanding the doom and gloom, from her recent missives there appears a slim chance that Nathans will survive till April Fools Day and beyond. Read more after the jump:
Nathans was opened in 1969 by a trio of men: Howard Joynt, Charlie Mathieson, and “Nathan Detroit” (apparently not the fictional character from Guys and Dolls, but rather a real Georgetown resident, who just took to the name). Shortly after it opened, Howard Joynt bought out his partners and ran the restaurant himself until his premature death in 1997. His wife Carol took over the restaurant and runs it to this day.
Carol Joynt has added a bit of splash to the old place by hosting, since 2001, a monthly luncheon interview with high profile politicians, journalists, and other well-to-dos. Q&A Cafe, as it is known, is open to the public and you can even watch them on YouTube. Here’s her interviewing D.C.’s man-behind-the-man Dan Tangherlini:
As one could probably surmise, having a moderately priced restaurant on one of the most expensive corners in the city was a tenuous proposition at best. Joynt’s lease is going to run out on March 31st and the landlord has been (at least until recently) demanding too much of a rent increase for Nathans to remain.
In the background of this, the building has been on the market. In fact, it was almost sold late last year, but the deal fell through. Ironically, with the sale scotched and the retail economic collapse in effect (i.e. not as many chains willing to pay top dollar for prime real estate) a window may have opened up for Nathans. At least in the short term.
According to Joynt’s blog, in December the building owners approached her to negotiate a new lease that would be acceptable for the restaurant. It appears that even without a rent increase, Nathans is still facing stark economic hardship. Nonetheless, there is a chance that a deal may be worked out between Nathans and the owners to stay open beyond March. Joynt writes:
The landlords have changed lawyers. They’ve given us a proposal. We have to come to terms. But I also have to be ready to walk away. I’m virtually there. The only pause is I’m a solo parent. My son goes t college in 18 months. All the money I saved for his college has gone into Nathans. I have to be responsible and make responsible decisions, even if that may mean staying in a business that is not my natural habitat. So I have to be ready to walk away, but I may not have that freedom.
The word of the day for Joynt and Nathans staff is “uncertainty”. From Joynt’s writings, you can tell that she has deeply mixed feelings about Nathans and that it is in many ways more of a burden than a blessing. But as someone who eats there frequently and views it as the neighborhood’s living room, GM earnestly hopes Nathans lives on.
Marc Fisher described Georgetown as becoming generic the way a weatherman reports a cold front: as if it were the inevitable result of the confluence of uncontrollable forces. But between the failure of the city to step forward and adopt a program to assist establishments like Nathans (e.g. tax incentives to landlords for leasing to independent tenants and breaks to the independent stores themselves) to the NIMBY anti-mixed use paranoia that prevents new shops from opening up deeper in the neighborhood like Scheele’s, we have to realize that we’re doing this to ourselves.
Carl Joynt writes in her blog today the following:
Yesterday, two of the landlords showed up at Nathans and told the manager on duty that “we have a buyer.” Now, three weeks ago they began negotiations with us for a new lease, after a year of telling us they were selling and we had to close. So, it’s up, down, up, down, up, down. This week we will find out whether they have a buyer or if we’re still in lease negotiations. My stomach is in a knot as I write this.
Still no resolution and even more uncertainty. GM will keep you updated.