January 11, 2010
But not all good reviews mean halcyon days ahead

I recently wrote about the aftermath of a positive review, which often sees restaurants flooded with business. That isn't always enough. I can count three restaurants I reviewed in the past 12 months that have closed or changed hands.

Chanterelle, at the Sterling Hotel, is the latest. The managers who took over ownership last year, closed the restaurant last Wednesday and the managment team is in transition. Here is a rough draft of the story we are working on for Tuesday's Bee:

With rumors swirling and stunned employees at its restaurant scrambling to find work, the stately Sterling Hotel will remain open during a change in management.
But Chanterelle, the adjoining upscale restaurant, will close as the owners of the property put that portion of the building through a major renovation and look for a new concept.

Amid competition from scores of new and stylish downtown eateries, Chanterelle was decidedly old-fashioned - quiet and cozy, with a touch of elegance housed in a 115-yearold Victorian on H Street.

Bay Miry of D & S Development, which owns the property, says the 17-room boutique hotel will remain open during the transition. The company is in talks with local catering companies to handle upcoming weddings and other events, he added.

The restaurant, which recently received a three-star review (out of four stars) in The Bee, will be re-imagined and expanded, Miry says.

"Our plan has always been a major rehab of the restaurant includingthe addition of a glass conservatory structure and additional patio seating and bar area," Miry said. "The plan is to find a fresh new concept to go along with the rehab plans that we have always had."

The departing general manager, Martin Vale, said, "I am absolutely stunned and heartbroken that we couldn't keep it going."
In August of 2008, Vale was part of the management team that vowed to rescue the Sterling after owner Sandi Wasserman announced she was closing it in response to the economic downturn.

"We know the place and we understand its potential," Vale told The Bee at the time.
But that passion was apparently not enough to save the hotel, which opened in the historic mansion 21 years ago.

"It's the economy in general. We were basically doing it on a wing and a prayer. We, like many other businesses, just couldn't bear the brunt," Vale said.
Vales says six to eight restaurant workers lost their jobs. Employees began to notice financial problems months ago, according to Chef Jua Moore, who only recently rose from sous chef after his boss, James Williams departed, fearing the collapse was coming.

"They weren't paying their bills on time and our vendors were cutting us off," Moore said Monday. "In December, I was doing two or three banquets a day with 100 to 200 people, and it was pretty much a skeleton crew."

The married father of three says he is looking for work and may have to settle for a lesser cooking job because openings for chefs are so scarce these days.

"I worked so hard to get to a place where I wanted to be, and worked 12 and 13 years to get there, and then I get it swept right out from underneath me," Moore said.
Meanwhile, Moore received his last paycheck but continues to carry it around in his pocket.

"I've been trying to cash it every day, but so far it hasn't worked," he said.

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