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Public relations is a crucial part of the restaurant business. Brothers Eric and Mark Flannery have learned that the hard way, having to put out their first fire before the flames of their burger grill are even lit.
The brothers Flannery began work on their forthcoming new restaurant, a planned gourmet burger joint called The Big Board, to be located in the former Toyland space on H Street NE, innocently enough. A few weeks ago, they created a logo design contest, advertised on a website recommended by a friend who runs a burger bar in Ocean City. For the sake of freelance designers, who might be unfamiliar with the overall H Street aesthetic, they described their intentions and the setting thusly: “we want to give the idea of a nice restaurant, but we are in a dive neighborhood.”
When that unfortunate choice of words reached blogs across the city, critics pounced, accusing the brothers of being ignorant about H Street’s recent transformation and cheering for their failure. Lost in the furor was the fact that the brothers live in the neighborhood. The vitriol got worse when a draft of the restaurant’s website surfaced, littered with typos.
Now that a few weeks have passed and the dust has settled, the Flannerys are taking pains to be sure everything is in place before they try to promote the restaurant again. They say they were “shocked” at the rapid and negative response, but add that nearly all of the people they’ve met in person since the incident have been supportive of their efforts to bring more food options to the west end of H Street.
As for that sloppy first draft of a website? It was never meant for prying eyes.
“We had no intention of the website being public, it was actually just a shared space between us,” Eric says, noting that the site, now “under construction,” was live for about 24 hours.
Such is the power of the microscope that scrutinizes every new establishment on H Street: one poor choice of words and a few typos have the guys apologizing and hoping that patrons will just give their upcoming restaurant a chance.
“We did a poor job with putting out some information, we accept full responsibility for putting out that information poorly, and we’ll do better on our next attempt,” says Eric, delivering an apology with a level of earnestness that would put a scandalized politician to shame.
Eric is equally cautious when answering questions about the concept for the restaurant, revealing few details about the menu beyond gourmet burgers, salads, and a full bar. The most detailed description of a menu item they offer is a pepper steak burger with a cognac cream sauce. It’s the kind of high-quality burger, Mark says, that will separate the Big Board from D.C.’s growing glut of burger options.
The Big Board’s stock market-inspired beer program may also give it a leg up on its H Street neighbors. Prices will reflect demand, they say, dropping as more customers order a particular beer.
“Rather than us choosing the specials, the customers choose the specials based on what they’re ordering,” Mark says.
When asked about the degree of drinker collusion that the beer market will tolerate, Eric declines to reveal the exact spot at which the cost of a beer “crashes” and resets back to its full menu price.
“If we told you what the bottom was, you might not order anymore,” he says.
Though their adventures in food service got off to a bumpy start before it even began, the brothers say they’re looking forward to a successful opening in a few months, though they’re not sure about an exact opening date.
They wouldn’t want to be late and make anyone angry, after all.
Photos by Nick DeSantis