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The last person to eat shrimp scampi inside the Foggy Bottom Bertucci’s probably wouldn’t have bet that the sprawling space would one day be home to ExPat, a bar and restaurant served with a side of sports betting. ExPat, from a newly formed hospitality group of the same name, will be Western Market’s largest tenant when it opens next year. Instead of setting up betting kiosks, the hope is that customers in the 8,000-square-foot space will wager on their smartphones.
ExPat comes from longtime local chef and restaurateur Tim Ma, bar owner Ben Sislen, and Union Kitchen co-founder Jonas Singer. Since City Paper first reported on the group with big ambitions, ExPat Hospitality acquired a fourth partner—sportscaster Bram Weinstein. He does play-by-play for the Washington Football Team and founded the podcast production company Ampire Media. Weinstein is only involved in the hospitality component of the business.
“It’s interesting how good of a space Bertucci’s had,” Ma says. “There’s a good amount of space devoted to a kitchen. One of the unique things about the space is there’s a large amount of square footage on the ground floor with an open air courtyard that everything looks down on. But then there’s a separate bar on the upper level.”
Sislen estimates the capacity will max out around 400 people. There are distinct zones that can be used for different activities. A group might be glued to a TV watching a big game in one area while another section is being used for trivia. The founders think of betting as an experience-creating amenity rather than the main draw.
They anticipate catering to the George Washington University crowd as well as International Monetary Fund and World Bank workers. “We talked about it being this community space and that’s where programming comes in,” Ma continues. “It allows different people from different walks of life to come in at different times.”
Ma has opened and closed a number of upscale restaurants in the D.C. area including Kyirisan in Shaw, Water & Wall in Arlington, and American Son downtown. Since closing them, he’s been leaning more toward casual concepts. He’s behind Lucky Danger, for example, which focuses on American Chinese food. Ma is working on a menu for ExPat that will include barbecue staples, wings, and Southern-inspired finger foods like hush puppies. (Note to the chef: Please bring back your signature crème fraîche wings!)
Once customers wipe the wing sauce from their fingers, they should be able to open a mobile site on their smartphones to place sports bets. The technology uses what’s known as geofencing so bets can only be placed on ExPat’s premises. “What’s important and cool is to create a product different from other guys,” Sislen says. “It’s not designed to use on a couch watching the game. Hopefully groups of people can use it together. It’s a tough mountain to climb, but we have great partners and a lot of flexibility because we are who we are.”
The gambling component is somewhat theoretical at this point because the city has yet to give them the green light. ExPat hasn’t submitted its application to the D.C. Office of Lottery and Gaming yet. Sislen says they were waiting to lock down both their first space and an agreement with gambling partner SWX Technolgies. The exchange wagering platform has now signed on to bring ExPat’s vision to fruition.
Four D.C. bars will have sports betting kiosks as soon as tomorrow: Takoma Station, Ben’s Next Door, Lou’s City Bar, and Dirty Water Sports Bar. Unlike ExPat’s plans, these bars use the city’s system, GambetDC. They’ll earn a 5 percent commission on sports betting sales and a 1 percent commission on bets they cash out.
“We’ll have our own unique products because we have control with our gambling partner,” Sislen says. “It’s not designed to get people betting the highest dollar amount that they could possibly get. It’s a way for people to interact and have fun, rather than a huge life altering decision.”
Sislen didn’t share what kind of cut ExPat will get from sports betting. “The way it’s structured, the food and beverage operation will be helped overall by the success of the gambling,” he says.
ExPat, which aims to open in early 2022, joins a strong cast of new and familiar restaurants going into Western Market that will open sooner, including Tigerella from the team that brought Mount Pleasant Ellē, Roaming Rooster, Capo Deli, Bandoola Bowl, and Arepa Zone. Cana Development, Westbrook Partners, and MRP Realty are behind the food hall at 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
Tim Hill, MRP Realty’s vice president of investments, hopes ExPat will serve as a community gathering space. “We needed to get the right group in,” he says. “ExPat brings a different dynamic to Western Market.” Hill attended George Washington University and remembers the old retailers. “Getting to work on this—what it was before and what it is now—is why I love what I do,” he says. “Bertucci’s had a long run.”
Western Market, 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, westernmarketdc.com