Clover Food Lab Coming to DC, Thinking About H Street and the Newsom Building

1110 H Street, NE during H Street festival in 2012

Thanks to a reader for sending word:

“Looks like Clover is looking at the Newsom building. I live in the neighborhood and think this would be a great fit.”

On Clover’s website they have a post titled DC Real Estate with a photo of the once planned for Newsom building:

As you may know we’re trying to figure out DC real estate. It’s tricky. 1) We just don’t know it as well as we do Boston. 2) We’re going to be brand new. And there’s so much about what makes Clover special in Boston that has to do with our interaction with the community. We want to make sure we choose sites where we’ll be able to create that same type of deep experience in DC. So while prime office-area real estate is attractive from a sales standpoint, I’m nervous about our ability to build our brand properly in that market.

Based on advice from very experienced operators who know a lot more about DC than I do, we’re thinking it would make sense to open 2 sites: 1 that is in a more developing area, the other in an already developed area. That’s our rough thinking. We have a lot to do to figure out if this is the right direction or not.

A site became available on H street, near 10th. This is an area with an &Pizza and a Taylor Gourmet, 2 hot new chains in DC. I love the building, and there’s room to do some really creative stuff, and the trolley is just being added. Those are all exciting things. But when I shared this with a friend who knows DC really really well he said he thought it was much too gritty for us. Didn’t think it would be a good early location. DC-ers out there, what do you think?

For those not familiar with Clover, like me, they sound pretty awesome:

“Our food philosophy is driven by simplicity. I’d rather have you shocked by how delicious our turnip soup tastes than impress you with an exotic ingredient or fancy technique or flowery menu description.

We try to keep everything very simple, but very careful. If you eat with us for breakfast you know that we’re making the soup or salads in the morning and prepping for lunch. We don’t make ketchup. We don’t make Mayonnaise. We make just about everything else every day.

This is Fast Food. We’re obsessed with speed and constantly time ourselves. Our average serve times are around 3.5 minutes, which makes us a little slower than McDonald’s.

At Clover we:

– Have no freezers. In the entire company. Not one.
– Change our menu day-to-day to stay in sync with the best tasting seasonal ingredients.
– Cut food as close as we can to when you’re going to eat (e.g., tomatoes are cut when you order)
– Keep your money in your region. (40-85% of our ingredients are from the Northeast)
– Use an unheard of amount of organic ingredients (typically 30-60% depending on time of year)
– Don’t EVER use any preservatives, “natural flavors,” “flavor enhancers,” “artificial flavors”*
– Make food that will improve your health (no need to tell the kids, but that food is good for them)
– Allow you to see us making your food. We have no “back of house” anywhere in our company.
– 100% of what we hand you is compostable. OK, nothing to do with taste. But it’s the right thing to do.”

You can see Clover’s menus here and read a lot more background here.

49 Comment

  • It sounds like the kind of restaurant I’ve always dreamed of opening, serving simple vegetable-based meals like those I make at home. I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t do well on H Street (and if they wait until the area is completely non-gritty they’ll be priced out of it). So what happened with Newsom?

    • justinbc

      That particular location has almost no grittiness to it at all. It sounds like whoever told them that is the same kind of person who thinks all of “Southeast DC” is dangerous and uninhabitable just because part of it consists of Anacostia.

      • I was on the 90 bus once with a guy from Boston who was staying with a friend near H Street and was scared to death of the people in the neighborhood. I haven’t spent much time in Boston, but maybe they don’t have neighborhoods with diversity?

        • Also, the guy later said that his sister got into Georgetown but he didn’t want her to go because “there are too many black people” (at which point my jaw dropped).

        • Boston pretty much has zero diversity. The low-income neighborhoods are far away from the upper-income neighborhoods so they never really intermix like they do in DC.

        • Yeah, Boston still has some seriously overt racism going on. It’s also quite segregated.

          • As a Boston native, I have to agree — sadly. I could go on about specific examples, but it isn’t particularly relevant to a site about DC living so I’ll just say that the above anecdote about the 90 bus surprises me not in the least.

      • Yeah, that’s a weird thing to say. Some people think they know DC very well because they’ve lived in the area a few years, but it takes more than that. I’d say you need to be living in the metro area for at least a decade (and be spending a lot of time in all different parts of the District proper, ideally living in it the whole time) to be able to provide reasonable assessments about what businesses would do well in a neighborhood.

        • justinbc

          Agreed. Actually living in the District, versus living “in DC” as people in the surrounding area so often say, makes a huge difference in terms of understanding it. When I lived in McLean and Alexandria I thought I knew it well, then changed my opinions greatly after moving inside the lines.

  • Wow, I really wish these guys luck, and I have no experience with Boston, but I get the impression that they’re underestimating the complexities and expense of the DC commercial real estate market. And I definitely wouldn’t call H Street too “gritty” for what they appear to be doing. Ten years ago, definitely. But not now.

    • I left a comment on their page, pointing out that H Street NE already has multiple yoga studios, an upscale pet supply store, and a raw vegan/juice bar, and that they’ll be getting a Whole Foods and a mom-and-pop organic grocery store. It sounds like Clover would fit in nicely with the yuppie-meets-hipster vibe of H Street.

  • No freezer? Can a restaurant operate like that and pass a Health Department inspection?

  • I would love to see something like this come to H St! I’m guessing Newsom isn’t happening at this point, which is a shame. It looks like they did a nice job with the space. Hopefully someone else will take advantage of it.

  • I saw these guys on Netflix a little while ago. They were part of a food documentary on the Best Food Trucks in the US.

    Really excited for this!

  • They’re delicious! I think they might have started as a food truck and then gotten restaurant space in Harvard Sq. Great vibe, great food, would love to see them here!

    • I agree, and think the Harvard Sq location is great, but unfortunately I actually think H St may not be right place. They’d do extremely well in Foggy Bottom/ Georgetown. H St – as much as I’d love to see them in the neighborhood, doesn’t have a large enough daytime lunch crowd to sustain Clover in the way that Harvard Square does. On a side note, I wonder how big of a difference there is in the cost of retail space between H Sq. and H St.

      • justinbc

        H Street’s lunchtime crowd is almost non-existent at this point. I’ve walked up and down multiple times on my days off and it seems like most of the restaurants there aren’t even open for lunch (and if they are they’re virtually deserted). Although, with everyone else closed, it couldn’t hurt to be one of the only ones open!

        • Maybe, but the other places are all closed for a good reason. Clover is awesome, but imho the menu just isn’t broad/exciting enough to be more than a once per week visit for the average person. It would do far better with very high density and a large flow of once per week visitors. I mean there’s only so much turnip soup you can drink in one week right?!?

          • justinbc

            Well I was partly joking, but I think once the high rise developments are done there will be a much bigger lunch demand. Right now there just isn’t enough “business” in the area that isn’t bar/restaurant related to put people in the seats during the day.

  • OMG this place looks amazing. Please hurry! I’m hungry!

  • Who is this friend who knows DC “really really well” and says H St. is “much too gritty?” Have they stepped foot in the area in the past few years? This seems perfect for H St.

  • H St is fine and and all, but please come to Shaw.

  • Wow, this place sounds amazing! I actually think H Street would be great for them, but further west, closer to Sidamo, Ethiopic, etc. They might pick up some of the lunch crowd from SEC, etc. and maybe even further into NoMa.

  • If Atlas Room can make it on H Street, this place can.

  • This would really be an interesting puzzle to follow. As they are already established, they must know their general profit margins and so how many units per day they need to sell, so the question is how to match that to rents/competition/expected customer stream.

    PoPville is always enthusiastic about new businesses, but in the cold hard real world, it all comes down to figuring out the numbers.

  • I think that the foot traffic at lunch is increasing. Taylor has been open for lunch for many years and they are obviously doing pretty good (at least well enough to open all those other locations). You might be surprised by the number of people in Sidamo, Taylor, Union Market etc. during the day. I think Clover would be a great fit for H Street and I hope that they decide to come here.

  • justinbc

    What’s the deal with this building? It was a restaurant or something for like 1 day, and then I’ve never seen anyone in it?

  • “1 that is in a more developing area, the other in an already developed area.”
    So H Street would be the one in an already developed area?

    • You’ve been living in hipsterville for too long if you think that H St is ‘developed’. I love H St as much as anyone, but a developed part of DC is Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, or Dupont… Not H St.

      • Well, that’s why I was asking. I wouldn’t call it a “developing” area either (yeah, there are a few unclaimed vacant buildings here and there, but what neighborhood doesn’t have those?).

        • My apologies – I totally misread your tone. I kind of read it as a snotty “H Street is so passe'” type comment. Responded in equalled snark. I’m sorry!

          I’m assuming that H St would be the developing site. I mean, if it’s not, it’s hard for me to imagine what is. I don’t think an entrepreneur brand new to the city is going to anchor themselves in Anacostia… When they say “developed” I picture someplace a lot more crowded and established, like Dupont.

          • justinbc

            FWIW I read it the same way, but I would agree that areas like H St, Brookland, Bloomingdale, Shaw, would all fall in the “still developing” category, while Dupont, Georgetown, Chinatown and others are all somewhat built up to a different degree. (Note this is not a preferential opinion on one or the other.)

      • Also, I don’t live here (or anyplace that would be considered “hipsterville”).

  • This place is delicious. I would absolutely venture to H st for it.

  • This place would be awesome on H Street, but living in the neighborhood I’m biased. The big question, i think, is how much lunch traffic they would get at the Newsom location. I don’t know the answer to that. They should contact Englert and the whole H Street new biz incubator that meets every few months and run the numbers.

    If they want to get going in an area that’s still on the rise, I think H Street is a great choice.

    Also: “gritty” LOL

    • I think a lot of the casual spots– H&Pizza, Taylor, Shwafel, and soon Ben’s– get just as much traffic from the late-night crowd as they do at lunchtime. Unfortunately I’m not sure anyone wants to be eating turnip soup at 1am.

  • I wonder if the friend is originally from Boston. In my experience people from Boston are afraid of H Street because it has a lot of black people.

  • Their existing stores are in Cambridge and Brookline, not Boston, with food trucks in the downtown business district. Might explain why their associate would think H Street is too gritty for them…not that it is in reality though. Maybe if they had a store in Roxbury or JP they could relate better.

  • We welcome them with open arms and I will personally campaign to get this place loads of business.

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