If the owners of Capital City Diner had to endure several painful crash-course lessons back in May as they moved their diner to D.C., the partners are now just playing the standard waiting game as the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs reviews their restaurant plans. Most of the DCRA comments are in, says co-owner Matt Ashburn, and so far the biggest change comes from the folks in plumbing, who want Cap City to add two handicapped-accessible bathrooms.
The only problem with that, Ashburn figures, is that the vintage 1940s-era diner has only about 560 square feet — total. The two bathrooms would take up about 70 square feet alone. “That’s a large chunk of our restaurant, and we can’t do that,” Ashburn says.
So he and business partner Patrick Carl are working with their architect to graft a small addition onto the diner that will not detract from its classic, streamlined dining car design. “We’re adamant about keeping the original feel of the diner,” Ashburn says.
Once the plans are redesigned and resubmitted to DCRA for approval, the partners hope to get a quick go-ahead from the city to start construction. Ashburn figures he and Carl need about a month for build-out. Time is of the essence, Ashburn says. The owners start paying rent in September, and “that’s money out of our pockets,” Ashburn says. September 1, in other words, is now their target opening date.
The owners understand that waiting is part of the process with DCRA; they don’t understand why it’s part of the process with the gas company. “I can’t even get Washington Gas to return a call,” Ashburn says. “We may convert to electric if we don’t hear back from the gas company.”
That would be a massive conversion, given that the diner’s furnace, warming tables, and burners all run on gas. But, Ashburn says, if he can’t get Washington Gas to respond, he’ll have to make the changes; he can’t wait around for a non-responsive utility.
On the other hand, the residents of Trinidad, where the diner will be located on a former used-car lot, have fully embraced the diner. Dozens and dozens of people have already approached Ashburn and Carl about jobs, even though the owners are not yet accepting applications for small handful of positions that they’ll have available, including cooks and wait staff. The Latino Economic Development Corporation has also given them a loan, which has essentially kept the project afloat during these many weeks.
But most interesting of all, the pastor of the nearby Community United Methodist Church told the owners that the house of worship has long needed a place for community meetings where the religious and non-religious could mingle together with ease. The pastor, Ashburn noted, told them that she had “actually prayed for a place like your diner to come to our neighborhood.”