Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Food

First Look: Capital City Diner

Capital City Diner Front

I met Matt and Patrick, the owners of Capital City Diner, last September. I stopped by the former used car parking lot on Bladensburg Road to tour the then mid-construction diner. They had a chain-link fence up around the restaurant, and there was a gaping hole in the ground where grass now grows. The guys had been waiting on plumbing inspection by Richtek, and Patrick had decided to dig a hole himself for the water connection, since it would speed up the process. The history of Capital City Diner’s permit getting has been well documented here on We Love DC and over at Young & Hungry. In short, it’s been a mess. “Is it to the point that it’s funny? You guys have had such a tough time, that all you can do is laugh.” I asked Matt in December. “No. It’s definitely not funny,” he replied, looking frustrated. I heard a sordid tale of ridiculous permits, incompetent government workers, and a process so frustrating I probably would have just quit. So when I was invited to a soft opening at the diner over the weekend, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to belly up to the counter on a stool and get a first look at what Matt and Patrick have worked so hard for.

I couldn’t have asked for more. It is exactly what I had pictured when I heard the vision – Trinidad’s first sit-down restaurant serving true diner food to H street hipsters, city workers and neighborhood folks alike. I remembered listening to Matt and Patrick talk about their vision for who would come by. Matt told me about the city workers shifts, and how there isn’t a good place to grab breakfast at the crack of dawn in the neighborhood. He told me all about the neighbors who have stopped by the diner to inquire about jobs, some of them laid off chefs from DC’s hotels and restaurants, hoping to help out. The guys explained their vision of staffing entirely from the neighborhood so that they kept integrated into the tight-knit community, and were able to employ the people that would keep them in business. The more I heard them talk, the more I believed in what they were doing. And while a soft opening, when a restaurant isn’t yet open (they open tomorrow, Tuesday the 23rd, for the public), is a great time to identify issues, figure out processes, and basically work through the kinks, I saw a huge, burgeoning success story. Continue reading

News, The Daily Feed

Capital City Diner and DCRA Square Off On Twitter

boulevard diner
courtesy of Paul Keleher

You might’ve caught the Washington City Paper’s piece this morning on the soon-to-be delivered Capital City Diner, about an old rail-car-style diner from upstate New York being moved to DC to be put up in Trinidad. If you missed it, it’s well worth the read, so head on over, and then click back.

Today, as it turns out, is the move-in day for the diner itself, being delivered to its new home over in Trinidad on the back of a semi. One slight problem: DCRA has not, and apparently will not, approve the foundation that the diner is due to be sitting on. According to their twitter feed, at one point a DCRA inspector came and left without approving the foundation, and after a few back & forth tweets, it seems that DCRA themselves headed out to the site to get things resolved, but not before the diner was given a parking ticket by the city. Now, I’m not exactly sure the last time an entire restaurant was given a parking ticket, but I have to feel for Matt Ashburn, who must feel like insult is being added to injury at this point. Young and Hungry has some more detail as well.

[Update]: DCist has talked with Ashburn, and he’s gotten permission to put the diner on the foundation. We’re still waiting to hear back from @dcra on Twitter, here’s hoping we can get to the bottom of what happened.

[Update 2]: DCRA has put up a couple public replies about what happened today: “But he had some serious issues with architect who took advantage of them.” and “But architect essentially forged engineer’s signature. The REAL engineer confirmed this.” Ouch! That’s shady shady shady! Fortunately, DCRA & Capital City Diner are kissing & making up. From @dcra: “The @capcitydiner guys are great and are now doing the right thing. We’ll do anything they need to make it happen.”