Tracking what Chef Alex McCoy is serving in his Park View restaurant hasn’t been easy. When he first took over the former Mothership space at 3301 Georgia Ave. in February it was Alfie’s—a Thai restaurant inspired by the chef’s many trips to the country.
In November, the restaurant’s personality split. Wednesdays and Thursdays the space transformed into a noodle pop-up called Nok Noi, once again positioning McCoy to show off his hand cut Thai noodles in a variety of soups, while the rest of the week it was business-as-usual at Tchoup’s Market.
Got all that? There’s more.
McCoy announced today that he’ll close Tchoup’s Market on Dec. 23. “For the next few months, we will be doing private dinners and special events in the space until we finish our lease in late spring and start really getting into Alfie’s re-opening,” McCoy says. He adds that he still hasn’t found the ideal home for what will be his pièce de résistance restaurant.
To some, it may look like McCoy can’t make up his mind, but the turbulent use of his Park View address has been deliberate.
“It’s been an incubator space, that’s how we’ve used it,” he says. “We’ve had the opportunity to train staff on food they’ve never cooked before … we now have this fantastic team that we can grow with and move them around to different restaurants.”
Following an incubator model also positioned McCoy to trial run several restaurants and come away with lessons learned. For example, McCoy has his hands on a piece of restaurant real estate on Upshur Street NW in Petworth and thought it might be a good fit for Alfie’s permanent location.
“It wasn’t until we had the opportunity to trial the concept at 3301 [Georgia Ave.] that we realized that Upshur was completely undersized and that we would need something much larger to meet the full potential of the concept,” he says.
“If we hadn’t tested our concept, we would have unnecessarily spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.” He adds that since 80 percent of new restaurants fail in the first year, there’s major value in testing concepts.
Pop-up incubators have been the norm in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York for decades, according to McCoy, who says D.C. is finally catching up. He’s right. Spaces like Prequel, EatsPlace, Mess Hall, and to some degree, Union Market, have all made their debut over the past few years. There’s also the increasing trend of established restaurants letting aspiring chefs use their kitchens on nights when the restaurant is closed or business is slow.
“Fifteen years ago when I started in the kitchen, no one was doing pop-ups, no one would let you use their space,” he says. “You’d have to find money and open up a big restaurant and take a chance.” Pop-ups, he says, provide the opportunity to put food (or drinks) in front of customers who can provide feedback and potentially become investors, or at least loyal fans.
The Park View experience has been so fruitful for McCoy that he wants to pay it forward by offering up the space to other chefs or bartenders looking to experiment. “It not only gives guests a variety of flavors, but it will only benefit this food scene more and more by having well trained, well thought out restaurants opening up throughout the city,” he says.
The Alfie’s/Tchoup’s Market/Nok Noi space will be up for grabs for those interested in hosting pop-ups from January through May of 2017, after which McCoy will surrender the lease. Diners can find out what pop-ups are happening on social media.
The timing is convenient for McCoy. Since Alfie’s is the priority right now, the chef has lined up a series of events to grow the project before it opens hopefully sometime in 2017. In February, the Alfie’s team will cook at New York’s James Beard House. March will take them to the United Kingdom for a pop-up dinner series at Carousel London. In April or May, they hope to bring Alfie’s to Bangkok, and in June or July they may set something up in Indonesia.