Food fight breaks out over cupcake walk
A logistical and not-so-sweet food fight has broken out over the long lines at Georgetown Cupcake on Bethesda Row. Assaggi Mozzarella Bar and other merchants in Bethesda Row say the made-for-reality-TV business can't have its, you know, cupcake -- and eat it too.
The situation boiled over when cupcake-lover lines snaked from Georgetown Cupcake past other stores, blocking entrances and outdoor patios. The businesses most impacted, so far, are Assaggi Mozzarella Bar, two doors away and Daddy & Son Camiceria Italiana, a men’s clothing boutique, which is between Georgetown Cupcake and Assaggi.
Assaggi’s general manager’s Golnaz Feiz, has been up in arms about cupcake queues blocking the narrow sidewalk in front of the restaurant entrance and encroaching on patio diners.
“I received complaints from diners that the cupcake queue is intrusive on their table space on the patios,” she said. Personal security also is threatened, said Feiz, because there is no “safety zone” for diners with briefcases, shopping bags and purses.” Assaggi’s al fresco patio is located across a narrow sidewalk from the restaurant’s main doors.
Jon Moss, operations manager for Georgetown Cupcake, said a “newly implemented” policy presented late last week at a meeting attended by representatives of Georgetown Cupcake, Federal Realty Investment Trust (the management firm for the row of stores), Assaggi, and Daddy & Son calls for a security guard and other staff to break the queue for the length of Assaggi’s storefront and “95 percent” of its patio.
Moss said the queue resumes after the restaurant property ends. But Feiz said that in actual practice the execution of the new monitoring plan is “not consistent.” For instance, she said, the youngish staff for Georgetown Cupcake has difficulty guiding customers “because people get upset” with the break in line.
“It’s a circus,” she said.
Georgetown Cupcake at 4834 Bethesda Avenue opened in November, 2009. Customer traffic on any given day from morning to evening is between 500 and 800 people, said Moss. He said the fresh policy sets up a single-person-wide line with barriers to keep people from spreading out.
Until very recently, Georgetown Cupcake’s queue was hardly a single file line. Couples, friends and families doubled or tripled up on the sidewalk, “not to mention strollers, kids and dogs,” said Feiz. Distracted cell phone talkers also were a problem -- they didn’t notice other pedestrians trying to squeeze by.
“We have table service outside on the patio,” said Feiz. “We have servers in and out, busboys in and out, food runners delivering food. We have wine and alcohol service outside. We have a service station outside that our waiters and busboys need to get to. We also have valet parking.
“Waiters carrying food trays and drinks are hindered from serving our diners. It creates a hazardous situation for everyone. We already had one busboy get pushed, and he toppled the tray that he was carrying with two cups of hot coffee. Thank God he didn’t get any on the customers,” she said.
“I had two couples seated outside who just got up to pay for their drinks without ordering food,” said Feiz. “They said they were out for a pleasant dining experience and did not want to be bothered with a line right next to their table. They were regular customers. I can’t lose loyal customers who are supporting us and enjoy our Italian cuisine.”
For awhile, the cupcake line was directed in the other direction toward Cava, a fast food operation, away from Assaggi. However, merchants on that side then complained about the line blocking their entrances. So, the line was shifted back to Assaggi’s and Daddy & Son’s direction again. Georgetown Cupcake is flanked by Cava and Daddy & Son.
Francesca Inferrera, who owns Daddy & Son with her husband, said the new plan doesn’t help her business because the line still runs parallel to their entrance and blocks it. “For the last two weekends, we are down in sales by 50 percent,” she said. “It’s a human wall. You can’t see my store for the line. I don’t have window shoppers anymore because people can’t see in.”
“And, if clients want to come in, they know they have to fight their way through the line, so they just don’t bother coming in. If I open the door to let people in or out, I have to excuse myself to the people in line. It’s like the Beltway at 4 o’clock –a traffic jam.” And she added, “there remains only 20 inches of walkable sidewalk” for regular pedestrians.
Feiz said she spoke to Federal Realty about moving Georgetown Cupcake to a wider storefront area. She said the response was that it was “costly” to do a relocation.
Moss, the Georgetown Cupcake spokesman, told to The Georgetown Dish: “We’ve been thrilled with the Bethesda location, and we plan to be there for the long term. We are doing our best” to fix the line. “This plan should function.”
A Federal Realty spokeswoman did not return a phone call.
The flagship Georgetown Cupcake in Georgetown is on a business corner at M Street and 33rd Street NW. The Georgetown line, which can stretch for a couple of blocks and is double-wide with people, streams past residential houses. Relations between those residents and Georgetown Cupcake has been testy at times, too. The Georgetown branch recently set up a rope line to control the cake walk.