City Paper is not for tourists
The BBQ Joint, which opened on 14th Street NW in February, is now closed. Owner Andrew Evans informed the staff Sunday night.
“We couldn’t make the numbers work because the break even is so high in that neck of the woods,” he says. “That location has been tough—they’ve had three businesses there before me. I thought I could overcome it with the food, but it wasn’t possible.”
The space (2005 14th St. NW), sandwiched between a Dunkin‘ Donuts and Marvin, has been cursed for others too. Den of Thieves, Blackbyrd Warehouse, and Hanoi House never really took off there. Evans says he made the mistake of thinking that lots of nighttime foot traffic would translate to customers.
“Just because the street is packed with people at ten at night doesn’t mean they’re coming into your restaurant to eat,” Evans says. “They’re going out to drink and go to nightclubs and whatever else. A restaurant only works if you’re able to deliver what customers want. And in that location, barbecue wasn’t what they wanted.”
The BBQ Joint served pulled pork, barbecue chicken, chopped or sliced brisket, smoked turkey, and ribs, along with sides, salads, cocktails, wine, and beer. The ribs were perhaps the most coveted, and the restaurant would flick on a red light to signal to passersby that they were hot and ready.
Before deciding to close, Evans took a trip to the legendary Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas and returned committed to making the restaurant more enticing.
He created a “Drag Meat” theme on Tuesday nights, for example, featuring Absolut cocktails, food specials, and drag queens. Acoustic bands played on Thursdays for a theme night Evans called “Rhythm and Ribs.” But nightly specials weren’t enough to save the business.
“I don’t have misgivings like, ‘Oh if I had only done X, Y, and Z, it would have worked,’” Evans says. “Fundamentally, between the location and the fact that there are five zillion restaurants in D.C., if you’re not already established it’s a lot harder than it used to be. I know lots of other restaurant owners and chefs. The numbers are tough. The election didn’t help.”
Evans, who is known for winning barbecue competitions with his recipes, says he’s mourning the loss of his 14th Street restaurant but isn’t giving up. For starters, diners can still try his barbecue at the other BBQ Joint locations in Union Market and both Pasadena and Easton, Maryland. Evans will also participate in BBQ Bash this Saturday as well as Bacon & Bourbon on Dec. 8.
“There are other things in the works I can’t say anything about right now, but just because one doesn’t work doesn’t mean it’s all over,” Evans says.
But wait. When one door closes, another door opens. New Columbia Heights snaps a “hiring” sign on the former Columbia Heights Ruby Tuesday (3365 14th St. NW). It says Jenkins Capital BBQ will open in the space.