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The sudden closure of Ray’s the Steaks at East River last month prompted some speculation about the future of the pioneering Ward 7 steakhouse (ranked No. 39 on City Paper‘s list of D.C.’s 44 Most Powerful Restaurants for demonstrating that a nice sit-down restaurant could survive in that under-served part of town).

“Please bear with us as we close briefly to reformat,” a sign posted on the door explained. But not everyone was convinced. This kind of note,” observed WaPo food scribe and Y&H alum Tim Carman, “is often just a knuckle sandwich delivered in a velvet glove — a way to soften the blow of closing a struggling restaurant.” Carman reached out to proprietor Michael Landrum for clarification. Landrum declined comment.

Landrum now tells Y&H the sign is no ruse: “Despite the deliberately misleading insinuations of the Washington Post, my plan to reformat the menu at East River while doing periodic, necessary repairs is on track for reopening in early to mid January—-exactly like the sign says.”

During renovations, Landrum says some 20 staffers of the shuttered restaurant have been working at his other eateries in Arlington, which the owner describes as a “real world practicum” allowing his employees to “expand their horizons and confidence in service” in a more established community. “They are growing and thriving and improving their confidence in that environment,” he says.

As for what to expect from the new and improved Dix Street NE location, Landrum, true to character, is short on details. “Ray’s to the Third,” he says, referring to his recently opened steak frites joint in Arlington, “is the result and culmination of lessons learned over a decade, and the reinvigorated Ray’s at East River will be the culmination of what we’ve learned in opening Ray’s to the Third.”

So, does that mean that Ray’s to the Third is a sort of preview of what to expect from the reformatted Ray’s at East River?

“Somewhat,” Landrum says, “and that’s one of the reasons for the timing because I wanted the Dix Street crew to be a part of the opening of Ray’s to the Third so that they could experience first-hand not just what it takes to run a great restaurant but what it takes to build a great restaurant. And that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have that timing come together.”

But the term “preview,” Landrum adds, isn’t quite the right word: “Not necessarily a preview. But what we’ve learned together as a team in opening Ray’s to the Third will be applied to how we can best serve the east-of-the-river community. “

Logo courtesy of Ray’s the Steaks East River