The new Foggy Bottom Grocery will open its doors Thursday for a soft opening intended to give recently hired employees experience running the store.
Though the opening is only for invited “family and friends,” owner Kris Hart said his operation’s grocery area will be welcoming walk-in customers over spring break. The deli will open when students return to school after break.
The opening has been a long time coming. Originally slated to open in September 2009, zoning issues, D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration hearings and delays caused by record snowfall in D.C. repeatedly pushed the opening date back.
A small group of community members representing the West End Citizens Association had protested the store’s opening, saying the extended hours would disturb the neighborhood and the owners would be violating the store’s certificate of occupancy by operating a deli from the lower level.
But after months of contention and discussion at neighborhood group meetings, including the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A – which voted to support Hart – and the Foggy Bottom Association, ABRA issued the store an alcohol license and set the hours of operation from 7 a.m to midnight, daily. The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment ruled Feb. 23 that the store could operate on all three floors, dismissing an appeal filed by Barbara Kahlow, the secretary of WECA.
“I always felt throughout the whole process that we were right,” Hart said. “The one thing that’s frustrating is I’ve run into people on the street and they’re like, ‘Oh it’s too bad the community is fighting you,’ and it’s like, 98 percent of the community was behind us. It was just a few people, that’s all it takes.”
Now, with the store’s shelves stocked with groceries and ready to open, Hart said the transformation has been major.
“[When we bought the store] it was a little decrepit, it was really falling apart and it was a little scary walking in here, the tiles were all broken, you’d have to scare the rats out before you walked in,” Hart said.
The store will sell its first products Thursday to invited guests to give the employees training, said Devlin Keating, the chief operating officer of the store. The employees will be an integral aspect of the store, Keating said.
“We made it part of our hiring process, too; we didn’t hire people with the best experience in the world at a grocery store, because listen, it’s a grocery store, it’s not rocket science,” Keating said. “But, I do think putting an emphasis on people who showed up to their interview with a smile. that’s what’s going to set us apart.”
This article appeared in the March 11, 2010 issue of the Hatchet.