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Restaurateurs See Ray of Sun in Forecast

In a word, Tom Cannon, manager of La Brasserie restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue Northeast, characterizes the sunless spring as “devastating.”

Irene Khashan, who has owned Café Berlin on Massachusetts Avenue Northeast for 18 years, agrees: “We’ve never experienced a spring like this.”

Although the sun started shining last week, many other Capitol Hill restaurant owners and managers are singing the same tune. The spring rain has caused restaurants, especially those boasting a patio, to lose a fortune during a period that normally rakes in the most profit.

With 24 rainy days in May and 18 so far in June (through Friday), according to the National Weather Service, many area restaurants estimate that business was down by an average of 30 percent from last year.

“Every time we couldn’t use the patio it was about $1,000,” said Stratton Liapis, the owner of Bullfeathers on First Street Southeast. “I’m a Washingtonian all my life and I can’t remember a spring like this.”

Lynne Breaux, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, said the spring has been “pretty rough” on the 200 restaurants in Washington with licensed outdoor patios.

“I have not seen a lot of people sitting on patios,” she said, adding that the rain “also affects business inside because there are more people on the street” when the weather is nice.

Perhaps no area on the Hill has been hit as hard as Barracks Row, the portion of Eighth Street Southeast that runs from Pennsylvania Avenue to the Navy Yard’s Latrobe gate. The combination of wet weather and the $15 million effort to revamp what is known as Washington’s first “Main Street” has had a crippling effect on restaurants and retailers.

Sixty-six percent of business owners faulted the weather for their average 30 percent to 40 percent drop in business in a survey conducted by the Barracks Row Main Street Project. Eighty percent cited the construction, and 67 percent blamed the economy, said Linda Parke Gallagher, the organization’s president.

Barracks Row Main Street is not leaving its business out to dry, however. The organization has made fliers encouraging the business community to shop on Barracks Row and has taken out a two-page ad in two Capitol Hill newspapers.

Gallagher said the organization also is working with the city to put in angled parking, which will add 55 more parking spaces to the street. She added that an effort to provide off-street parking for employees is also under way.

But not all Capitol Hill businesses have suffered such staggering losses as Barracks Row.

U.H. Kim, manager of Armand’s Chicago Pizzeria on Massachusetts Avenue Northeast, said his business has found a silver lining.

“Nobody wants to come,” he said. “But there have been a lot of delivery orders, so that helps me out.”

In fact, he said the 30 percent drop in in-restaurant diners has been completely negated by the delivery service, and revenue is on par with preceding years.

Chris Paytner, manager of Kelly’s Irish Times on F Street Northwest, went so far as to say the rain has boosted his business.

“We’ve been up because people that would go to places like Sequoia come here because it’s raining,” he said, noting that 80 percent of his seating is inside.

With only isolated thunderstorms on the horizon for the next few weeks, Capitol Hill restaurant owners and managers are beginning to perk up.

“We’ve been busy ever since the rain has stopped,” said Liapis, who has owned Bullfeathers since 1994.

And Breaux, who runs the restaurant association, added that “overall business is good.”

“People always seek camaraderie in restaurants,” she said. “And tourists are flocking back to the city.”

But, she added, “There’s no question that we’ve missed the sublime feeling of dining outside.”

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