By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer
The restaurant Chadwicks has been an anchor in Friendship Heights since 1982, particularly for professionals in the local news media. Though it’s undergone some changes over the years, including the abbreviated name Chads, the affordable prices and friendly atmosphere have kept locals coming back.
But in the next few months, the 5247 Wisconsin Ave. NW restaurant will see a transformation, thanks to several high-profile new owners: nationally recognized sports talk personality Tony Kornheiser; syndicated talk show host and former local news anchor Maury Povich; longtime University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams; and D.C. entrepreneur and socialite Alan Bubes. The quartet purchased the restaurant late last year and plan to change its name, upgrade its interior and add a studio where Kornheiser, a former Washington Post columnist and ESPN anchor, will record episodes of his podcast “The Tony Kornheiser Show.”
Immediate tweaks will include new flooring and paint, an expanded wine list with help from Calvert Woodley Liquors, and a sound system that will simulcast Kornheiser’s podcast recordings, according to Geoff Dawson, a local restaurateur who’s helping the new owners with the business end of their new venture. Eventually, visitors will be able to view Kornheiser’s podcasts and interviews from an enclosed green room space in the restaurant, Dawson said.
The sale came together quickly — initial conversations began four to six months ago, and the final paperwork was signed in the last week of 2016, Dawson said. Plans will start to take shape in the restaurant over the next 30 to 90 days, according to Bubes. The restaurant will remain open throughout the transition, Dawson said.
News of the Chads purchase arrived first on the Jan. 3 episode of Kornheiser’s podcast, aptly titled “The Big Announcement.” Kornheiser called for loyal listeners to write in with suggestions for the restaurant’s name. In an interview with The Current, he said renaming the restaurant will help him and his fans put their stamp on it.
The idea for the new business was born out of loose conversations among friends, the new owners told The Current last week. Bubes had heard that Chads was up for sale and floated the possibility to Kornheiser, who thought Povich and Williams might be up for the transaction as well.
“I don’t want to make it seem like there was a master plan and we’ve been sitting waiting to pounce on an opportunity,” Kornheiser said. “Not at all. It just sort of grew out of a conversation.”
Povich signed on to purchase the restaurant as an act of friendship.
“They basically told me I was going to be a partner. I don’t think I had a choice,” Povich joked. “Usually when my friends ask me something, I just blindly do it.”
Unlike Kornheiser and Povich, Williams brings a modicum of restaurant experience, having helped oversee a few restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, while he coached basketball at Ohio State University in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, Bubes is the founder of Linens of the Week, a company that has provided Chads with tablecloths and other fabrics for years. And Dawson’s properties include popular establishments like Penn Social and the Iron Horse Taproom.
Chads founder Joe McGuinness put the restaurant up for sale in 2015 and considered three offers before making a deal with Kornheiser’s group, McGuinness told The Current in an email. “I’m almost 71, I have been doing this for over 50 years, it was simply time to retire,” he wrote.
Tucked below street level at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Jenifer Street NW, the restaurant was known as Chadwicks for its first three decades in service, co-owned by McGuinness, Tom Russo and Mike Kirby. Russo, who owned the rights to the name, decided to pull the Chadwicks name from the Friendship Heights restaurant when he fell ill in 2012 in order to avoid any issues with his estate, according to McGuinness. McGuinness decided to simply shorten the name to Chads, which stuck, though Bubes and other longtime patrons still call it Chadwicks out of habit. A location in Georgetown closed in 2014; another one remains in Alexandria, still operating as Chadwicks.
Handing Chads over to the new owners made sense because McGuinness knows many of them from their patronage of the restaurant over the years. Povich recalls that his colleagues at WTTG-TV often headed to Chads after newscasts to commiserate with each other and with their competitors at WUSA-TV — playful ribbing over who missed out on an exclusive story, debriefs on how that night’s show had gone and a fair share of drunken merriment.
Ken Crawford, a Woodley Park resident who worked at WUSA for almost a decade in the late 1980s and early ’90s, describes Chads as a “home away from home” for the local media crowd.
“Of course there’s hilarious stories that would not be fit to print. Things were lively. We were all friends,” Crawford said. “We knew each other’s business through Chadwicks and the good times that we had down there.”
The new owners plan to continue making changes to their establishment over time, based on feedback from patrons and Kornheiser’s listeners. Long-term goals include teaching high schoolers about podcasting, an idea Kornheiser credits to his son Michael.
And visitors can look forward to an annual appearance from Povich’s wife, longtime TV journalist Connie Chung, who told The Current that she has agreed to serve as a waitress there once a year. “Fair warning, I’m going to be the waitress from hell,” Chung said. “Just for fun.”
Kornheiser teased on his show that he’d like to see the restaurant become a hub for University of Maryland sports fans. Williams told The Current that the place will be welcoming to all, and won’t formally affiliate itself with the Maryland school.
Kornheiser is coming in with a humble attitude, freely admitting that he’s no expert on running a restaurant, and that he’s far from certain the endeavor will prove successful.
But Povich and Williams do think their new venture will be a hit — within reason. “I don’t go into things with my heart with the idea that I’m going to make money,” Povich said. “Anything that’s positive is just a bonus.”
Though change might scare off some loyal customers, Kornheiser and the others want to preserve as much of the restaurant’s existing spirit as possible.
“It’s not a fancy restaurant. We’re not going to sell anything where you have to add foam,” Kornheiser told The Current. “The whole model of it is to be welcoming and familial and friendly.”
This article appears in the Jan. 11 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer
Since 2008, the Lab School of Washington has been leasing D.C. Public Schools’ former Hardy Elementary at 1550 Foxhall Road NW, and the private special-needs school has housed its elementary program there.
But a quick D.C. Council decision to allow that lease to be extended has drawn some complaints that the city needs that property to relieve crowding on nearby public schools. Critics also object to the council’s abrupt action at its last meeting of 2016 after allowing the plan to sit dormant for over three years, reducing their ability to weigh in on the proposal.
At its Dec. 20 meeting, the council voted 11-2 to approve emergency legislation from at-large member David Grosso that authorizes Mayor Muriel Bowser to enter into lease negotiations with the Lab School, which serves 79 students at the Old Hardy campus and close to 300 nearby at 4759 Reservoir Road NW. About a quarter of The Lab School’s current students were sent there by D.C. Public Schools. The Lab School’s current lease runs until 2023, but Grosso said an extension would allow the private school to invest more than $2.5 million in urgent repairs and maintenance.
“While the old Hardy School works well for the Lab School, it is in dire need of improvements,” Grosso said: Students have to wear coats inside during the winter because the heating system doesn’t work, and teachers struggle to talk over the loud air-conditioning system during the warmer months — presenting a particular challenge to students with auditory disabilities. The windows are also 30 years old and leak frequently, he said. In an interview, head of school Katherine Schantz added that the building also is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and its bathrooms are in poor condition.
Bowser hasn’t yet reviewed the bill but will do so in the coming weeks, spokesperson Susana Castillo told The Current Tuesday.
The proposal to transfer the building to the Lab School first surfaced in 2013. Following a council hearing in October of that year, then-mayor Vincent Gray withdrew the legislation in December over concerns that a planned redrawing of the city’s school boundaries could reveal a need for the old Hardy building as public school space.
Since then, little progress on that determination or the terms of the lease was visible to the public, though Lab School staff stayed in touch with council members, according to Schantz. This past fall, Bowser told members of the Palisades Citizens Association that a public comment process would be initiated for the old Hardy effort, according to the association’s president Nick Keenan. But thus far, no such process has emerged — Grosso’s bill was introduced on Dec. 19 and passed a day later.
At the Dec. 20 legislative meeting, several council members said they’d received a flood of emails from concerned community members in the 24 hours since the bill appeared on the agenda. Ward 3’s Mary Cheh said she believes delaying the process of transferring the land to the Lab School would only further impede its efforts to improve the property for the benefit of its students. Jack Evans of Ward 2 concurred.
“It should have been done three years ago, it should have been done two years ago. It needs to be done now,” Evans said. “I think we have to move with a sense of urgency to get this thing done. The longer the wait, the worse shape the building gets.”
The two dissenting votes on the bill came from at-large members Elissa Silverman and Robert White, who both said they didn’t see the need to rush the bill through, given the outstanding questions about the old Hardy building’s viability as a public school.
“I don’t think most of us could say definitively if we’re going to need to use that school for swing space or another need,” White said. “This may very well be the best use for this school, but I think it does require another hearing and I don’t believe it’s an emergency.”
Ward 3 State Board of Education member Ruth Wattenberg continues to believe that the city ought to make use of the old Hardy school for public school space, especially given the increasing population in the area. After seeing Grosso’s legislation on the council’s agenda, she sent a Dec. 19 email urging her constituents to contact their council members in opposition.
“We need the capacity. We need space,” Wattenberg said in an interview. “If not there, where else?”
Parents at Key Elementary, located at 5001 Dana Place NW in the Palisades, share Wattenberg’s concerns. In an email to The Current, Elizabeth Wise, co-president of Key’s PTA and a parent of two second-graders, wrote that it would be “short-sighted” to extend the lease. Key’s boundaries extend to the Foxhall neighborhood where the Hardy building and adjoining city recreation center are located.
“I continue to ask, where is the long term thinking and planning as it pertains to DCPS and future space for our students?” Wise wrote. “If our public schools continue to accelerate in desirability it is imperative that a five or ten year plan and budget be developed and adhered to in order to provide adequate facilities for them.”
Though previous council discussions of the transfer to the Lab School suggested a 50-year lease, Grosso stressed at the council meeting that the bill doesn’t specify a lease of that duration, and the mayor could opt for a shorter lease of 20 or 25 years. Still, critics like Keenan want more opportunities to have their voices heard, and he feels there’s still time to reverse course.
“The pressure is going to be on the mayor before they enter into the lease to have some sort of public process on this,” Keenan said. “We could conceivably do that in 90 days if the mayor really wanted to do this.”
Meanwhile, the Lab School maintains that a long-term lease will help ease the burden on students. “We want to invest and make it a higher quality learning environment,” Schantz said.
This article appears in the Jan. 4 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Plans to redevelop a gas station at Georgetown’s eastern gateway can move forward after the Zoning Commission gave its approval to the complicated application on Monday.
EastBanc’s proposal for the Valero service station at 2715 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is relatively modest: seven apartments above ground-floor commercial space, envisioned as a restaurant with outdoor seating. The developer’s angular brick design already won conceptual design approval from the Old Georgetown Board.
But complications arose in the zoning case. The EastBanc property is irregularly shaped, wedged in the triangle between Pennsylvania Avenue, M Street and Rock Creek Park, and fairly small at just under 7,500 square feet. Part of the lot had never received a zoning designation.
Then EastBanc’s effort to go through the planned unit development process — in which a developer offers community amenities to offset the impact of waiving zoning restrictions — was held up as the Zoning Commission debated whether to allow such PUDs on properties this small.
On Monday, commissioners first approved their long-debated change to the zoning regulations that allows a PUD on lots as small as 5,000 square feet in certain zones that are designated for dense development. But they accepted a compromise measure advanced by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C (Adams Morgan) and dropped plans to reduce the minimum lot size in zones that cover certain blocks of row houses or small commercial buildings.
ANC 1C, the Committee of 100 for the Federal City and some other community organizations had raised concerns that allowing a PUD to have a small lot size would encourage speculators to snap up a couple of adjacent homes or other small properties — and then use the PUD rules to build a tall building that would be an affront to a community’s low-density character.
Responding to such concerns, the Zoning Commission earlier this fall rejected a broader proposal regarding PUDs — retaining existing minimums for low-density zones. Monday’s decision protected three additional zones where critics pointed to threats of big projects replacing small buildings on nearby streets. The Committee of 100 cited examples of potentially vulnerable areas around the city where they feared such PUDs were possibilities, including low-rise commercial strips in parts of Adams Morgan and the 5100 block of MacArthur Boulevard NW in the Palisades.
Zoning commissioners agreed to retain existing minimum lot sizes in the three additional zones. “I honestly found the comments we received for the record to be a little bit troubling,” commissioner Peter May said on Monday.
The idea of changing the District’s PUD regulations stemmed directly from the EastBanc project, which is located in a zone where properties had to be at least 7,500 square feet to qualify for a PUD. The Valero site is 7,413.
The Zoning Commission’s Monday decision did reduce that minimum to 5,000 square feet, followed by a speedy 3-1 approval of the project itself with little discussion. But the approval had been held up for months as commissioners grappled with how to establish a citywide precedent — a process that left some wishing they’d just made a one-time exemption for EastBanc.
“We want to thank this applicant for patience as we went through this exercise,” commission chair Anthony Hood said after the vote. “Sometimes it’s good to be patient and figure out how we’re doing things.”
EastBanc president Anthony Lanier said in an interview yesterday that his firm hopes to break ground on the Pennsylvania Avenue project in mid-2017, with the Valero station remaining in operation until the last possible day. Once underway, he’d expect construction to take about 18 months, wrapping up in late 2018 or early 2019.
Lanier added that he’s pleased to be largely through the approval process. It will require a second Zoning Commission vote — typically a formality unless there are outstanding issues with an application — and final approval of details like the facade materials from the Old Georgetown Board.
Lanier added that he’s particularly enthusiastic about the idea of a ground-floor restaurant at the prominent location. For pedestrians coming west on Pennsylvania Avenue or M Street, he said, “this will be the first chair for someone to sit down when they come to Georgetown.”
This article appears in the Dec. 21 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.