Whoa! Mount Pleasant Almost Got Pop’s SeaBar

3174 Mount Pleasant Street, NW

Pop’s SeaBar (1817 Columbia Road, NW) owner, Justin Abad, commented on our post about the Subway sandwich shop protest:

“Before we opened in Adams Morgan, we were trying to open Pop’s SeaBar at this very location. In fact, we had a singed LOI and were reviewing Lease details when the landlord and broker pulled out of the deal last minute, with little to no explanation.

Sorry to say, but it was clear the property owner wanted to sell to a national chain rather than support small, neighborhood business. We would have loved to be a part of the Mt. Pleasant community, as both myself and business partner are former residents of Mt. Pleasant.”

68 Comment

  • Subway restaurants are franchises and they are one of the most affordable franchises to buy into, which is why they tend to be economic stepping stones for immigrant entrepreneurs and also why they tend to be in a variety of difficult locations. Admittedly their set-up benefits from the larger corporate structure, but it’s hardly some evil corporate entity coming in to destroy Adams Morgan.

    • In fact, Subway doesn’t even pick the locations. I’m going to guess that this was something where the landlord just felt better (or was connected with) the franchisee.

    • The franchise owner could be a small-time entrepreneur… or a Connecticut hedge fund manager or a Potomac, Md. franchise investor. Or any other number of investors looking to make a fast buck by selling crappy, unhealthy food wherever they think it might work. This model doesn’t lead to locals buying into the community and offering creative products tailored for the area they are trying to serve. It is instead a model of absentee or distant investors who likely could not care less about the area where the restaurant is operating.

      • If it is an absentee investor, s/he is merely taking advantage of the the fact that the community itself couldn’t offer “creative products tailored for the area.”

  • This is also the building that Suns Cinema (hence the name) was trying to open at originally. They had a very similar experience with the landlord and broker as well.

    • Rumor is also that the Coupe on 11th street wanted to open in MTP where the landlords signed a paint store instead. Landlords not doing MTP any favors it seems.

      • rumor = speculation, gossip, etc

        • Actually, Constantine Stavropoulos confirmed that he was trying to secure a place in Mt Pleasant to open the coupe, but said that the community/ANC was not receptive. This was two commissions ago when Gregg was still on the ANC. I don’t know all of the details, but it also seems like some of the property owners on the strip are just as anti-nice things as some of the ANC members. Man, Pop’s would have been awesome.

          • justinbc

            People need paint too. Not everything can be / should be a bar or restaurant.

          • @justinbc: Except, of course, they’re never open when residents might actually need to buy said paint. They are only open M-F until 4:30 P.M. No weekend hours. The place only caters to contractors. It contributes nothing to the neighborhood.

          • @dcdude Technically, I think they’re open from 9am until noon on Saturdays, but that certainly doesn’t invalidate your point that they really aren’t there to serve residents.

          • Correct me if I’m wrong, but you don’t need the ANC’s explicit blessing to open up a business in MtP. Who gives a lick what these self-important people think? Who made them the arbiters of taste or what people in the neighborhood want? Sorry but if I thought MtP was the place for my business, I’d present to the ANC and if they didn’t love it, then sorry. It’s between me and the landlord.

        • The paint store is a contractors outlet for second-tier product. It would be better placed – and probably busier – in a warehouse strip off Georgia Ave. near other contractor outlets such as Thomas Somerville.

  • The average start up cost (investment requirement) for a Subway franchise is over $200 thousand. Is this within reach of the typical ‘immigrant entrepreneur’ in Adams Morgan? See link for details….


    • When you’re pooling the money of 10 to 15 relatives, it becomes possible. The Subway next to my office has an entire family running it – sisters, nephews, BIL, etc. The eldest son of the family is the one who started it. It’s pretty amazing how much money immigrant families can cobble together with a few years of hard work and minimal spending (some immigrant cultures are FRUGAL, almost to a fault).

      • Thank you for your observation. I have seen many of the Subways I have visited as well. (It’s been a few years though, because subway is famously frugal with the lunch meat too.)
        On a side note, I love sandwiches, but I can.not.eat.a.sandwich.without.chips.
        Can’t do it. Is this common amongst sandwich lovers?

      • On point. See for example the Subway on Good Hope RD SE and the one in Congress Heights on MLK Ave. Same thing

  • It is not a property owner’s goal to “support small neighborhood business”.

    • And therein lies the frustration of Mt P residents. It’s our choice/job/decision to support local businesses, but landlords are still renting to tenants that don’t reflect the demographics of the neighborhood. (Note I did not say “always”; I said “still.”) Do they have to? No, but you’d think they’d want to see a tenant succeed rather than fail and stop paying rent (à la Heller’s).

      • But nobody is forcing you to eat there. If it doesn’t “reflect the demographics of the neighborhood”, then obviously the Subway won’t be successful and it will eventually close. If it turns out to be successful, then your opinion on the “demographics” would prove to be false.

      • “And therein lies the frustration of [i]some[/i] Mt P residents.”
        Fixed that for you. This place will fail, if the demographics don’t support this place.
        But my guess is that people living in the upper-middle class bubble of a certain part of Mount Pleasant are over-estimating their importance (in terms of spending power) to the neighborhood. I’ll bet anyone a foot long Subway sandwich that this place does decent business and will still be on this street corner in 4 years. Any takers?

        • “Upper middle class bubble”? That’s a rich (pun intended) generalization.

        • It’s not a question of demographics or viability. Can a franchised business, with support of a well known national corporation behind it, do enough business to stay afloat on MtP street? Yes. No doubt. The question is: with a limited amount of retail space available along the strip, what retail mix best reflects the wants and needs of the surrounding neighborhood? I would venture to say that most residents, regardless of demographics, would prefer to have small independent businesses that cater to the unique character of the neighborhood than bland national chains that offer nothing unique and dilute the neighborhood’s character.

          • I don’t know if most people care if a locally-owned, non-chain business comes in. I think that they care about more diverse options. Of the 19 restaurants that I counted in Mt P., 11 offered Latin American cuisine and 5 offered Asian cuisine. Not the most diverse set of food options.

          • I don’t have a problem with the number of Latino businesses along the strip. That’s been part of the neighborhoods character for decades and I hope it continues. That said, if given the choice between a small family-run restaurant serving authentic Mexican food and a Taco Bell, I think most people would choose the former.

          • If only there were places along Mt. P street serving “authentic Mexican food.” Most of those places are terrible compared to the quality of Mexican food elsewhere.

          • @mtp That’s probably because most of the cuisine in Mt. P isn’t Mexican, it’s Salvadorian. Haydee’s is just bad Mexican, though.

          • The Salvadoran food is also bad. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen the cheese most places use for pupusas, but in most cases it’s pre-shredded industrial “queso para pupusas” that’s similar to velveeta.

      • What, pray tell, are these demographics?

        • In 2010, 25% of ANC 1D’s population was Hispanic, 19% black, 6% Asian, and 50% white. The percentage of black and Hispanic residents has fallen since 2000, from 27% and 31%, respectively. At the same time the population of white residents has increased from 35%.

          There is definitely a need for food options for low income residents, as the poverty rate is 18%. That’s not being questioned. The problem is that the demographics of the neighborhood are shifting, and the average family income is 43% higher than in 2000. You can’t tell me that there isn’t demand for different types of cuisine at a higher price point. That doesn’t make sense based on the neighborhood profile.

      • This is what is most frustrating to me about the Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods. To be one of the most diverse areas of the city, the wealthier residents are completely out of touch with their neighbors. A subway does reflect the demographics of the neighborhood and I bet it will do well.

        • As another poster explained, financial success does not equal “reflect[ing] the demographics of the neighborhood.” The Subway will likely do fine business. But what is even more frustrating are blind culture warriors who assume working class people will jump for joy for the right not to walk 3 whole blocks to a Subway, The Great Hunger Savior. Are you making the utterly laughable claim that there is isn’t already a multitude of low-cost food options on the Mt P strip? This notion that no one can possibly want something better than a Subway without being rich and entitled is insulting. Please explain how a corporate monolith that offers unhealthy sandwiches with no character reflects the demographics of the neighborhood.

          • And some people assume that a Subway only serves working class people. You probably won’t Instagram it, but you’ll go there for your $5 footlong, after looking both ways to be sure nobody saw you walk in.

          • The Subway in the Ronald Reagan Bldg food court (where there are plenty of options) seems to always have the longest lines at lunch.

          • That was not my argument. I lived in Mt. Pleasant and I wished there had been more dining options. However, what I find bothersome is the utterly laughable level of privilege and arrogance coming from comments like yours. You’ve made it clear that Subway is not good enough for you and you would like something “better” that serves food with “character”. But there are plenty of people in your neighborhood who think a Subway is a great lunch. If you turn your nose up at your neighbors who patronize it or somehow feel better than them for not doing so, the only one being insulting is you.

  • HUGE FAIL landlords. Mt. P also lost Heller’s. I hope Mt. P stays Mt. P and doesn’t start to look like Columbia Heights on 14th street.

    • I wouldn’t necessarily equate Hellers into this conversation. I wanted to like Hellers, but the quality of service and product was not there, and so I stopped going. Hellers killed Hellers.

      • Yeah–I don’t think Hellers closing was an issue of rent being jacked up. They just flat-out weren’t paying (or not in full?) for quite awhile, and eventually the landlord refused to renew the lease. The quality wasn’t what it could have been, which is sad. I hope something similar opens in its stead, but at least I can get bagels at Argyle market across the street and then toast them, etc at home.

    • Mt P didn’t “lose” Hellers. The quality of the food declined which meant less business => they couldn’t pay rent.
      And if there was so much love for this local business (despite moldy cakes), then residents should have patronized the place all the time.

    • Heller’s was awful and deserved to go out of business. I just hope it is replaced by a good coffee place, or a non-divey bar (no need to compete with the Raven or Marx cafe).

  • That’s too bad… Pop’s is awesome! My family and I moved to North Columbia Heights/South Petworth from Adams Morgan and hated having to leave Pop’s behind! We’re obsessed. Haha. Any chance you’d consider expanding to our area? There is space on upper 14th St as well as near the new Safeway in Petworth. We’d welcome you with open arms!

  • QUESTION: Does DC have any sort of incentives to rent to locally owned businesses as opposed to a national chain? If small business keep losing out to these corporate entities, maybe something needs to be done to help them.

  • Enjoy your terrible sandwiches

  • It seems that the construction in this building is sporadic at best. Are we sure that Subway is going in? It seems that some of the landlords want to keep buildings on this street empty.

  • LOVE Pop’s Seabar! Great energy, tasty food, and awesome late-night happy hour. As a Lanier Heights resident, I am selfishly happy Pop’s ended up where it did! But MtP is obviously not far, and I would love to see some better restaurant and bar options in that neighborhood. The new place that replaced Tonic looks promising, but I would still love an easy brunch option on the weekends.

  • And if the store had been rented to Pop’s Sea Bar, this would be a 51 post (and counting) thread full of complaints about the choice of that business a opposed to fill-in-the-blank-with-the-name-of-the-commentator’s-favorite-business.

    It’s called capitalism – at least that’s the explanation offered whenever anyone raises the question of low income people being priced out of a neighborhood. It’s the landlord’s prerogative to choose a franchise with a more certain stream of income than a “local” business which may or may not be successful.

    • Okay, people here complain a lot but I don’t think that’s true. Look at the posts about Purple Patch. It’s basically Tonic with a couple Philippino dishes thrown on the menu and people gush over it. Beau Thai is pleasant but basically mediocre Thai food and it’s packed every night.
      Mt. P is begging for some decent dining options.

      • The fact that you characterize a place that is packed every night as “basically mediocre” proves the point. I’m sure lots of people in Mt Pleasant are begging for “decent” dining options. I’m also sure that different people have different ideas about what constitutes a “decent” dining option. Go through pretty much any PoP thread announcing the arrival of some new bar or restaurant and amidst the excitement there are always naysayers.

    • Mount Pleasant yuppies won’t be pleased until they get a snooty Michelin Star in the neighborhood. Sheesh.

  • Hey but Pop’s is close to Mt. Pleasant! Not a crime for residents to take the short walk or bike ride over, right? It’s ok to leave your neighborhood for a good meal if the perception is that “market demands” are not being met.

    • TBH, it’s not even that great. I’ve been there twice and it’s over-priced for what it is. And it’s usually not that busy. My guess is that the typical Subway does more in sales than Pop’s on an average day, thus justifying the landlord’s decision.

      • Yeah, I agree with this. While Pops has a nice look/feel and the food was good, I walked out of the place at lunch with a $17 check, having just ordered a *tiny* seafood & salad fries (If memory serves correctly I don’t think that $17 included my tip either). Seemed awfully steep for what I actually received, even if it’s a Cashion’s offshoot.

  • So much hand wringing about a Subway. If you don’t like it, don’t eat there.

    • Emmaleigh504

      Who knew Subway was in any way controversial. I have much Fremdscham reading these threads.

    • It’s not about Subway. It’s about a dysfunctional commercial strip that under serves those living within walking distance of it. To some, the Subway makes the situation worse than it already was because a business they would never patronize has taken the space where there was hope for businesses they like.

  • Just walked past the store and there’s now a for lease sign on the property – it would seem that Subway might have gone elsewhere. So http://www.popville.com/2015/02/pops-sea-bar-looking-to-stay-open-later-during-the-week/ – willing to consider our neighborhood again?

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