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Young & Hungry colleague Lydia DePillis, in this week’s Housing Complex column, examines the world of franchise flirtations. As was noted earlier this week, there was a big franchising expo at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last weekend, which if you were there, gave a taste of what’s coming to D.C.—or, at least, what could be coming to our fair city.
The Beef Jerky Outlet was there, and so was Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ. The Flying Biscuit Café had a booth. So did Kana Cuban Coffee Roasters, Tahina’s Mediterranean Grill, Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen, The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co., and Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery. Many were there to find the person who could hang their shingle in Washington, and like a massive high-stakes speed-dating session, would-be franchisees shopped around for the best fit.
The basic gist is that there are plenty of franchise businesses who see dollar signs when they think about setting up shop in the nation’s capital. But, sometimes, somebody just has to point out that there is interest on the ground from potential customers.
That Bojangles that recently opened up in Union Station? The southern chicken-and-biscuit chain was “[r]ecruited by someone at Union Station’s management group who was from the chain’s birthplace in North Carolina….Why hadn’t they opened here before? According to franchise salesman Chris Daniels: Nobody asked.”
That’s not to say if you ask, a franchise will automatically come. There are economics of locality to assess! For years, D.C.’s neighborhood message boards and blogs have stewed off and on with threads about what businesses would be great for a particular area.
Some folks in Tenleytown wanted a gelato place back in 2007, but there were concerns that there wasn’t enough “yuppie foot traffic.” In Glover Park, around the same time, there were desires to lure cereal chain Cereality and a Busboys and Poets to neighborhood, though there were concerns that the “left-leaning” Busboys “may leave some of the area’s neighbors out of the loop, you know?”
All that bellyaching down in Penn Quarter for a grocery store from the mid- 2000s? That didn’t amount to much, either. Nor did the clamoring for a Whole Foods in Columbia Heights. Remember the Washington Post feature by Lyndsey Layton about Whole Foods fetishism and entitlement?
Lauren Tobias, 29, a communications consultant who lives at 14th and Chapin streets, spoke glowingly about the prepared foods at Whole Foods and how young professionals want the convenience of picking up a quick, healthy dinner. Then she caught herself. “I don’t want it to sound like I’m one of the new people and I need all these services,” she said. “But a Whole Foods is just needed.”
Maybe a franchise like Whole Foods is “desired.” But it may not be “needed,” just like so many other chain businesses. But that, of course, depends on who you ask.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery