Update on Clover Food Lab Coming to DC


Last Friday we learned Clover Food Lab was looking to open two restaurants in DC – one possibly on H Street. After reading many comments they now update us on their plans:

“So a bunch of people asked for more detail about what we’re doing. So here’s a quick summary.

WHAT WE DO: We do so so much, but the heart of everything is making our food. We’re committed to making the best tasting whatever we make. So that means we do somethings and not others, we’re constantly trying to improve, we use a ton of organic ingredients (often tastes better), we buy a ton locally (often tastes better), we make everything from scratch (excl ketchup, mayo, and bread). We’re focused on plant-based foods, on a mission to make them exciting to the meatiest of palettes. So think of this as a new chance for fast food.

OUR FAVORITE REAL ESTATE: We do some massive volumes at our locations in Boston. 800-1,000 customers/ day at some of our trucks (DWY, PRK, MIT), more than 1,000 customers per day at some of our restaurants (HSQ, KND). 80% of our customers travel less than 5 minutes to eat with us. So to hit those numbers we’re loving very dense areas. We love to have huge impact, so we love the volumes. Daytime population greater than 10,000 within 5 min or high foot traffic. (developed site)

Lowest volumes we can operate profitably would be around 200 customers/ day. We do a few of these in the Boston area (BLV, HUB, BUR) (developing site)

Lunch accounts for between 40and 80% of our sales, like most fast casual. We have really nice dinners in some locations (HSQ), but most of our high volume experience is lunch. We love breakfast, at HSQ today we served about 200 people at breakfast, but they are low tickets and don’t generate a lot of sales/ profit.

RENTS: We can afford big rents, if the traffic is right. I haven’t heard of any rents in DC that scare me off yet (now LLs, please don’t take this the wrong way, we’re not out to make stupid decisions). Our experience is that it’s better to pay more for the right location and do really well vs. skimp on rent and location and work hard to make it survive.

We also do well just off the main drag, we’ve been known to operate in alley ways. So this helps us on some of our rents.

DC STRATEGY: Obviously there is a lot of detail and nuance to our thinking about how to enter our first every market that is not Boston. But the simple version is: (a) open a restaurant in a less developed area where we can afford to experiment, get to know a community, etc., (b) open a restaurant in a busy area where we can hit huge numbers. We’d love both to start off strong. We’re used to hitting profitability in our first month or two of operation. This isn’t a “let’s invest now hoping we’ll have a business in 5 years” sort of thing.

I’m so pumped about the response I’m going to start posting regularly about sites we’re checking out. I’m going to be down on Monday. Anything you’d have me look at?”

Stay tuned for more posts as their search starts next week.

36 Comment

  • This screams H Street or Shaw (Convention Center traffic) to me.

    • “convention center traffic” lol

      • The DC convention center is one of the largest convention centers in the US. There are currently some pretty bad places to eat right around there which have thrived over the years on conventions. Without the convention center traffic, they would not exist. With that in mind, ANY place with remotely good food would succeed around that area (probably closer up to the Metro rather than Mass Ave).

    • justinbc

      I have no idea if Shaw has a lunch crowd, but H St’s is virtually nonexistent. I’ve walked from 1st to 13th multiple times, at noon, just to see what new development is going on, and there are almost no open restaurants and the ones that are open are nearly empty. I would love to see more options come in, but I’m just not sure they could produce the volume these guys are looking for, yet. Having said that, there are at least 4 large scale condo developments in the works over the next 2 years to pump more people into the strip, so maybe they would be better off coming in now and securing a long term lease before it gets prohibitively expensive. Ultimately though the real problem is there just aren’t many businesses that aren’t a restaurant or bar in this area to really drive lunch demand.

      • Even on weekends… lots of places are closed on Sundays, unless they’re trying to attract the brunch crowd.

  • there are some great locations around 9th & U St/Florida Ave NW

  • I would love it if you guys came to H street! While we have some great quick service restaurants already, it would be awesome to have what sounds like a healthier option here, too. And the volume is definitely present. People in the neighborhoods frequent the restaurants, but offices on the hill will drive up as well. My husband’s congressional office routinely picks up food at the H street Taylor. We have a real lack of healthy breakfast food options on the east end of H street, too. Your breakfast menu looks awesome. Please keep us updated if you pick a spot!

  • Whatever happened to the bar that was about to open in that building? Or did for a hot second. I remember being excited for it and seeing them at H Street Fest, but then nada.

  • I ate at one in Cambridge a couple of years ago. It was very trendy, but also very good, I gotta say. I think they would do fine anywhere in DC. Very basic, healthy, and reasonably-priced.

  • Sounds to me like they have four choices: Dupont, Downtown, Chinatown, or Georgetown.

    Those are the places that will get them the lunchtime crowd they’re looking for. With Dupont, Chinatown, and Georgetown they’ll also have a shot at people looking for a quick dinner, too.

  • I don’t think it fits what they’re looking for, but I would love for them to come to the Eastern Market area!

    • I don’t know, if they’re looking for a lunch crowd, I could see them doing brisk business on the southern end of Barracks Row, closer to the Navy Yard.

  • Well I read almost every development post on PoP and have never heard this, so you must be inventing what Justin has to say “every single time”.
    That said, I also found what he said incredibly informative and insightful – a firsthand observation. Unlike your little pissy comment. So thank you, Justin.

  • How about in the WONDER BREAD FACTORY? Will that landlord and space be able to contain a place like this or does it have to be zzzz office zzzz?

  • H Street won’t work at all for this business model. No way there’s enough foot traffic to make it work. They’ll be lucky if they clear 300 heads per day. If you’re entering a new market, it’s better to hit a home run on your first location – giving yourself the time and money to work out the kinks – and then expand from there to less dense areas.
    Near Mount Vernon Square would be a perfect, under-served location. There’s a bunch of offices near there, multiple hotels, the Convention Center, and Georgetown Law School. The existing food options are quite mediocre and there’s no real “fast-casual” eatery in that area (I think Le Pain Quotidian is a few long blocks away – maybe a 15 minute walk from the Convention Center). There’s also multiple new developments going up around that area. Stick close to Mount Vernon Square and I think you’ll have a big winner.

    • + 1 on Mt Vernon Square/Triangle. That, or maybe even NoMa. Lot’s of residential density + much office space, but not too many good options to eat quite yet. I think they could make a killing in NoMa.

  • How about SW by the waterfront metro or in Federal Center? There is a LOT of office space there (mostly government, but also 425 E and other private buildings) plus some hotels (one existing and one near NASA under construction). With the Gold’s Gym they might be able to attract some healthy eaters. And SW continues to grow; the highway is a barrier but people will cross it for good restaurants that stay open during non-weekday-lunch hours (I’m looking at you, Amsterdam Falafelshop due to open in L’Enfant Plaza! Be open when I can actually eat at you!).

    Other ideas of places where there’s a lunch crowd and residential: NoMA, Hill East (Eastern High, the DC Jail, etc. must have staff that want to go out to eat!), Anacostia (on MLK between the metro and Good Hope Road), Congress Heights near St. E’s?

  • Please come to the new developments in Mt. Vernon Square around the Convention Center and Shaw! We need more dining options in this up-and-coming neighborhood. H Street or AdMo work well too. Clover, how I miss you so…

  • 12th Street NE in Brookland! Monroe Street market in the process of opening, at least 3 new restaurants coming in (all focused on dinner), and a large catholic university and resident population that loves supporting local businesses!

    • Not gonna happen. That area is dead during the daytime and will be for a long time, in spite of the new development.

  • Why don’t they make their own ketchup, mayo and bread?

  • Cleveland Park is not high volume except for *maybe* weekends (I think it could swing moderate during the week), but its got some good space available with the closing of Lavandou, and a solid community feel. I’d check this out often!

  • love this idea! How about thinking ahead and heading to SW with the upcoming SW Wharf area? Also, anywhere in SW or SE near the Navy Yard would be great — very few healthy eating options right now. If a salad place sprang up over here they would do an amazing business.

    • I work at the Navy Yard, and while I’d love some healthy lunch options I don’t think the general demographics of the workforce (heavily skewed towards conservative white 50+ year old males) would support it.

  • I love Clover!! You’d do extremely well near Federal Triangle, especially since Trump purchased the Old Post Office and closed its food court. The nearest similar lunch spots are at least a 10-15 minute walk away.

  • I wonder how they do with college traffic. I feel like GW students would be all over this place.

  • Someone mentioned zero lunch options in Shaw – clearly you have not been to Sundevich. This place makes a killing because it’s the only place in lower Shaw/Mount Vernon serving lunch. Not to mention the new Giant has options for lunch. With all the construction workers and hundreds of people moving to CityMarket at O I would say the lunch market in Shaw is underserved and makes most sense.

    H Street is cool for dinner time and beyond but who is there during the day?

    • and Azi’s, Tiki, Queen of Sheba, Beau Thai, Red Toque…there are lunch places in Shaw. But I think this place could do well especially if it captures some of the Howard U/Hospital/Progression Place traffic.

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