There’s a saying at Sholl’s Colonial Cafeteria: “It’s where the senators come to slum and the homeless come to splurge.”
One visit to the 71-year-old D.C. landmark proves that sentiment rings true.
The customers are a diverse lot: senior citizens and college students, members of the House of Representatives and homeless people, former presidents and U.S. Supreme Court justices. But they share one characteristic – they all keep coming back.
In recent months, however, those loyal customers have had their dining routines and their lives shaken by a grim revelation. With a lease that’s running out and rent increasing faster than the restaurant’s profits, Sholl’s might have to close within a year.
George Fleishell, the co-owner of Sholl’s and nephew of the cafeteria’s original founder, Evan Sholl, knows more than anyone how serious his restaurant’s latest dilemma could be. He has worked at Sholl’s since he was a boy scrubbing dishes and runs the restaurant with his wife, Van, and their business partner, Delmo Barbieri.
“The rent has gone up about 20 percent with a 2 percent escalation fee every year,” Fleishell said. “It’s not in the cards to operate a business under those kinds of circumstances.”
Sholl’s is located in the back of a modern office building at 1990 K St. and displays no business sign or banner, so it’s no wonder many people spend years in D.C. without ever hearing about the cafeteria. But patrons said once people dine there, they will feel like they have eaten there all their lives.
“I’ve been coming here for 13 years,” customer Derek Medlock said. “There’s people in here who you see every day who have been coming here since the ’60s. To lose this place would be a travesty for the downtown patrons.”
The GW community also would suffer from the loss of a place such as Sholl’s, which has served GW students and staff since it opened at its original location in 1928.
“You can’t get a place like this today,” said Robert Ganz, an English professor at GW who has been dining at Sholl’s for years. “After 71 years of doing things this way, it could never be replaced.”
“I have my office hours here,” creative writing Professor Dan Gutstein said. “Some days, I’ll just come in here and watch the people. “Being a writer, this is a great place to come for inspiration.”
With a location so close to the GW campus, the cafeteria owners might appeal to GW for support in their time of need.
“One thing that we talked about at one of our Save Our Sholl’s (SOS) committee meetings is the possibility of getting Sholl’s on the list of businesses that accept the GWorld card as payment,” said Beverly Swanson, a representative of the committee. “In order to save Sholl’s, the whole community needs to come together, and GW is part of that community.”
With pictures of the pope on the wall and a coin-operated love testing machine in the lobby, Sholl’s certainly is more than an average restaurant.
With a lengthy history of charitable deeds, Sholl’s has consistently worked alongside religious organizations to distribute meal tickets to the homeless, who can redeem them for a meal. And with the help of their patrons, the owners said they hope to overcome their latest crisis to continue serving the community for another 71 years.
Fleishell said he wants his employees to do more than serve food or make money.
“Sure we feed people, but we want to feed their souls too,” Fleishell said. “We do support good wholesome food along with good wholesome ideas.”