The new Guatemalan chicken place in Herndon, Va., Pollo Campero, is thriving in the same retail spot that the now-shuttered Mark Moseley’s Burgers previously occupied.
The closing of Moseley’s joint provides further evidence of a local trend: Restaurants named after Redskins are a dying breed. Time was when players cashed in on the team’s surplus of good will in the community by opening eateries in their name. During the George Allen and Joe Gibbs eras, no Skin was too anonymous, or too anything, to join the food-service industry. The third-string QB put his name on a chain. Offensive linemen started up restaurants. So did a defensive coordinator, a place kicker, a punter, and a safety. Even the least-liked player on the team used his moniker to sell bar food to the masses.
But more recent Redskins haven’t joined the industry. “I guess it’s been a while since a player did that,” says Vernon Grandgeorge, owner of Theismann’s Restaurants.
Theismann’s became the archetype of the Redskins restaurant through serendipity. In 1974, Grandgeorge was part of an investment group that planned to put a celebrity’s name on a restaurant. Though the team and community were wrapped up in George Allen’s mania at the time, the group wasn’t looking for a Redskin initially.
But the semiknown jocks they first contacteddecathlon champion Bill Toomey and Jim “King” Corcoran, who at the time was a quarterback with the World Football League’s Philadelphia Bellturned down the budding restaurateurs.
Theismann had only recently come down from Canada to sign with the Redskins to ride the bench behind Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen, protagonists in the first and greatest quarterback controversy in Skins history. Back then, Theismann was still best known as a former Notre Dame QB.
But Theismann was so eager to get out of the shadow of Kilmer and Jurgensen that he ran back punts for Allen. So when the Virginia investors offered him a cut of the profits for the use of his name in the new restaurant venture, he accepted enthusiastically.
“Joe stood up in front of a few investors and said he wanted to get involved and hoped to be here for the long haul,” says Grandgeorge.
Restaurants named after football players were more in vogue in Baltimore than in D.C. back then. Johnny Unitas had the Golden Arm Restaurant; Gino’s, a hamburger chain started by Colts players Louis Fischer, Alan Ameche, Joe Campanella, and Gino Marchetti, was on its way to going national by the mid-’70s. Around here, the main Redskin restaurateur was Fran O’Brien, a low-key offensive lineman in the early ’60s who had a series of low-key establishments. (O’Brien died in 1999; the last of his restaurants, O’Brien’s Stadium Steakhouse, opened in 1995 in the Capital Hilton and is still in business.)
But the first Theismann’s, which opened in Bailey’s Crossroads, Va., in 1975, made a big splash right from the start, even before Theismann took over as starting quarterbackthe so-called second-most-important job in Washington. Things only got better when Gibbs came in and took the team to the championship glories it had always flirted with under Allen. And at Theismann’s, patrons knew they could count on the quarterback himself to show up shortly after the game was over.
At one point in the Gibbs era, there were five Theismann’s Restaurants in the area, and for a time all thrived. Their success showed his teammates and other local investors the value the Redskins name could hold in the food business.
Soon enough, there were Rick “Doc” Walker’s Scoreboard restaurants in Herndon and Fairfax, Va. And years before going into his now-defunct burger business, kicker Mark Moseley put his name on a store called Famous Fries in Potomac Mills. Safety Curtis Jordan and punter Jeff Hayes opened three Rocco’s restaurants in the area, which despite their Italian theme had Redskins helmets as their logo. (Real Redskins really did hang out there: Dean Hamel was arrested for punching a woman at a Rocco’s in 1986.) Flanker Roy Jefferson had Roy Jefferson’s Bar-B-Q in Centreville, Va. Offensive tackle George Starke had George Starke’s Head Hog BBQ outlets. And even when he was just defensive coordinator, investors thought Richie Petitbon’s name was powerful enough in the community that it was used to launch a chain of Cajun sports bars, Petitbon’s American Grill and Bar, in Northern Virginia.
Then there was Jay Schroeder’s restaurant. The fact that there was any sort of business named after Schroeder shows the clout that the Redskins had in this town at one time. Schroeder was surely the surliest star of the Gibbs years. He got his first chance to play when Lawrence Taylor broke Theismann’s leg and ended his career in a Monday Night Football telecast in 1985, the ugliest few seconds of live television since Ruby took out Oswald.
Schroeder, who whined his way out of Skins fans’ favor shortly after getting the job, tried to capitalize on his position by following Theismann into the restaurant business. Despite the blossoming enmity, J. Schroeder’s All-Pro Restaurant opened in the Willston Shopping Center in Falls Church, Va., in 1987. In exchange for the use of his name and an agreement to show up at the business more than occasionally, Schroeder got a cut of the revenues. The restaurant closed in March 1988. That was a little more than a month after the heroic performance of Doug Williamswho always wore the white hat to Schroeder’s black in the eyes of Skins fansin Super Bowl XXII, which put an end to the Schroeder/Williams QB controversy for good. Schroeder, despite the eatery’s name, never was elected All-Pro.
Moseley’s, Jordan’s, Hayes’, Jefferson’s, Starke’s, and Petitbon’s places are all closed. And players from the Turner, Robiskie, Schottenheimer, and Spurrier eras haven’t stepped in to feed the masses.
The only Redskin to open up a restaurant lately is Don Shula, co-owner of the Shula’s Steakhouse chain, which opened an outlet on New Hampshire Avenue NW last year. He was a defensive back with the Skins in 1957, the last year of his playing career. His Redskins connection seems to have been no factor in the placement of the restaurant in D.C.: The only mention of the Skins on the chain’s Web site comes on his bio page, which says he played for the team in 1959.
Theismann’s is down to two outlets, in Alexandria, Va., and Elkridge, Md. Grandgeorge says he’s not surprised that Redskins aren’t jumping into food the way they used to back in the glory days. Theismann still comes in very occasionally, Grandgeorge says, but the restaurant now does much bigger business for college football games on Saturdays than on Redskins game days.
“It used to be there were so many people outside here, I had to bring in off-duty police officers to handle crowds on Sundays,” says Grandgeorge. “That was when the Redskins were winning. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Dave McKenna