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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Rise of Omicron variant creates obstacles for D.C. Restaurant Week

Photo Illustration by Grace Hromin | Senior Photo Editor
Several restaurants closed in advance of the week to prepare for the expected inflow of customers.

As the city faces a surge in COVID-19 cases and staff and supply shortages threaten local businesses, some local restaurants remain hopeful that Restaurant Week discounts will boost their sales.

This year’s D.C. Restaurant Week, which runs from Jan. 17 to Jan. 23, happens to coincide with the implementation of a vaccine-card mandate, a regulation some restaurants said they wish had come sooner. Amid numerous permanent restaurant closures, still more than 200 restaurants are expected to participate in the city-wide food event while adapting to the mandate.

Alan Popovsky, the owner of local restaurants Lincoln and Teddy and the Bully Bar, said he felt that the D.C. government announced the mandate with enough time for restaurants to “organize a plan of action.” While the vaccination requirement for restaurants went into effect on Jan. 15, Popovsky said he implemented the requirement at both of his restaurants beginning Jan. 1 in hopes of getting his customers “used to” the mandate and in the interest of his staff’s health.

“I needed to have the safety of my staff as the number-one priority and the safety of my customers as an equal priority,” Popovsky said.

Some restaurants have felt the strain of the rising spread of the Omicron variant and closed their services prior to Restaurant Week to prepare for the busy upcoming events. Bresca, a modern French restaurant near Logan Circle, closed for two weeks at the start of January to prepare to welcome an influx of customers during Restaurant Week.

Popovsky said the indoor mask mandate in D.C., which was lifted last November, should have never been lifted and the vaccine requirement should have gone into effect sooner.

“We could have nipped a lot of this in the bud if we had left the mask mandate in place,” Popovsky said. “Because once you tell somebody to take off their mask, it’s very hard to tell them to put it back.”

Popovsky said his establishments have participated in Restaurant Week for as long as each restaurant has been open – eight years for Teddy and 11 for Lincoln. He said the decline in sales due to the current surge of Omicron cases in the D.C. area makes this year’s Restaurant Week “especially” important for local dining venues.

“I’ve gone through different iterations, different things that have happened in our country like owning restaurants through 9/11,” he said. “Even then, it wasn’t like it is now. So it’s vital that restaurants participate in this week-long thing.”

In addition to requiring vaccines, Popovsky said his restaurants are emphasizing their to-go order feature for customers to enjoy their food without having to dine inside the restaurant.

“We’re really going through a very challenging time, but we’ll get through it and we’ll be stronger for it,” Popovsky said. “I mean, I’ve been in this business for a very long time, 30-plus years. And we will be resilient, and we’ll make it.”

Rebecca Morris, the regional event sales director of tapas bar Boqueria, said the D.C. government has done little to prepare restaurants to properly enforce the vaccine mandate. She said more information on how vaccination status will be checked should have been provided to restaurants in the D.C. region.

Morris said Boqueria will be able to handle the mandate better than other restaurants since they have a parent store based in New York City, where a similar mandate has already been enforced for the past eight months. She said she knows of other restaurants and managers in D.C. who do not feel as prepared.

“They feel as though they now have to have a manager stationed at the host stand because of this new mandate going into effect, especially because they’re not versed on what exactly to say when you have that irate guest coming in the door that really just does not want to do that,” Morris said.

Boqueria employees are instructed to complete health screenings before going into work. With these precautions and the vaccine card verification mandate in place, Morris said she hopes customers feel more comfortable coming into their locations and supporting them during Restaurant Week.

“We are hopeful in such a way that guests will feel more comfortable and confident being able to go out knowing that the ones that they’re surrounded with in the same environment are vaccinated,” she said.

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