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The media hype on Ray’s the Steaks at East River started more than a year and a half ago with this piece in WaPo, back when Michael Landrum‘s meat emporium was called Ray’s the Heat.

Yours truly fanned the flames a few times about Ray’s the Heat/Ray’s the Steaks at East River following that original spark in the Post. But with the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, the modest torch that we had carried for Ray’s the Steaks at East River has morphed into a wildfire, as next week’s steakhouse opening plays out on multiple levels:

  • possible catalyst for Ward 7 revitalization
  • backdrop for mayoral campaigning/grandstanding
  • small hope for widespread unemployment, and
  • just a good place to eat in a neighborhood without many such options.

That’s a lot of baggage for one restaurant to carry, even for Landrum, a man who desires to shoulder more burden.

Petula Dvorak‘s column today in WaPo did a fine job of balancing the hopes with the realities of Ray’s the Steaks at East River. Check out this nice section:

Let’s face it: Good steak and a few dozen jobs will not be the saviors of a neighborhood. And here’s the riddle: Do we sing praise that a fancy place (sorry, but any place with cloth napkins isn’t really a “joint”) has come to the block or do we despair that a nice restaurant is foolhardy in a part of the city struggling with unemployment, poverty and housing issues?

As one heckler who kept shouting at Fenty said: “How is a restaurant we can’t afford to eat at going to do anything for the community?”

This restaurant means that the community gets something more than a sub shop or a burger joint or all the deep-fried horrors of corner carryouts. It means that there is faith in a community, without the need for a bulletproof shield.

At a forum last month on the dramatic uptick of poverty in the District, the executive director of Southeast Ministry, Valarie Ashley, talked about the mind-set of a community and how something as simple as the Big Chair Coffee and Grill that recently opened near her office in Anacostia lifted the spirits of the entire area.

“A simple coffee shop. A place to have coffee, to sit and socialize. It meant so much,” Ashley said. “It does speak to a certain level of respect and acknowledgment that people have those needs. That people deserve that.”