End of an Era – Domku Closing in Petworth

Domku
821 Upshur Street, NW

From a press release:

“Domku Closing After Over A Decade

Rising Real Estate Prices are Pushing Petworth Pioneer Out

After nearly 12 years in business Slavic-Scandanavian inspired Domku, located in Petworth, will close their doors at the end of June. A dramatic rent increase is forcing owner, Kera Carpenter to leave the neighborhood she helped create. Carpenter’s hand was forced by a 66% rent increase on the new lease.

Carpenter opened Domku in January 2005 as an effort to bring vitality to the Petworth neighborhood where she had bought a home a few years before. “When deciding where I wanted to open a business, making a contribution to my own neighborhood was a big factor. I knew it would be more difficult than going to an already establish area. I don’t regret that decision, but now now there is only so much I can do.”

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A favorite amongst neighbors, Domku became a community gathering place for the surrounding residents. Solo for sometime, the business is now surrounded by Petworth Citizen, Twisted Horn, Upshur Street Books, Willow and the recently closed Crane & Turtle.

Carpenter, a longtime supporter of local business was active in the improvement of this area by creating and implementing the Upshur Arts Fair, the on-going street beautification project and working with the city early on to include the 9th Street farmer’s market in the long-term development plans. Despite the increased vitality and the recent uptick in openings, Upshur Street still remains an emerging neighborhood. “It really saddens me to leave a neighborhood that has been such a part of my life for the past decade, but I know the cycle of business here. I know that I cannot sustain a business with that much rent, especially going into the slower summer season.”

To end in the way it began, Carpenter will host a neighborhood party on June 25 to celebrate 12 years with the community. Domku’s final brunch, featuring an “indoor yard sale” is slated for June 26. There are no plans to re-open in DC at this time.

110 Comment

  • I have often wondered how this place stayed open. I appreciate the sentiment she expresses etc, but the service here was amazingly horrible. From laughable rudeness to total incompetence. Also the menu never reflected what was actually available for order. I tried and tried again for years but it was just such an unpleasant/ frustrating experience EVERY TIME without exception.

    • binpetworth

      +1. You took the words right out of my mouth. Poor service and so many items not being available, despite being listed on the menu, were major reasons I stopped going here over two years ago.

      • Yep I’ll third that. The owner was flat out rude to us pretty consistently. Stopped going a year ago. It is sad to be losing a restaurant though. We are just getting some in and now we’ve got a potentially vacant one to fill. It’s a great space. I hope someone jumps on it quickly.

    • I’ve eaten at Domku more times than I can count. Never had bad service, never had a bad meal. I guess everyone’s experiences are different, but I’ll miss it.

  • I’m a newer resident who was always sort of mixed on Domku. It wasn’t that accessible, but the interior was great. I feel like southern Petworth is missing so many basic, staple restaurants with an inclusive menu. Maybe their niche cuisine business model couldn’t compete with the increase. Certainly, it’s working well for others. While I appreciate their pioneering, I’d much rather see a standard deli, bakery, or traditional neighborhood restaurant like Red Hen or Right Proper Brewery. I even think ramen or a Maketto-type place could work. Scandinavian is a tougher sell though. Wish them the best. Maybe they should look to do a more inclusive style restaurant on upper 14th St near Little Coco’s and Red Derby? I’m sure is more competitive.

  • Well, this blows.

  • orderedchaos

    Stupid, greedy landlord — now it will sit empty, a rent reduction of 100% instead of the 66% increase you sought.

    • and when it is rented out, the rent increase will basically be passed on to the patrons via higher priced menu items. profit margins for the restauranteur won’t change significantly. this is the landlord taking money out of neighbors’ pockets, not the restaurant’s.

      • Can’t blame them. Real estate prices have sent a crystal clear signal to that landlord that some neighbors’ pockets are pretty deep.

        • Fair enough. But for those lucky enough to have deep pockets, they gotta pay to live somewhere, but they don’t have to pay to eat at overpriced restaurants. Will be interesting to see how the mix of restaurants changes.

          • How do some of the other crappy, hole in the walls stay open on Upshur? Wish they were leaving. I’m not 100% any of them are even open half the time.

    • Taxes have been raising like crazy on property too. Who knows if DC over he past 10 years has been raising it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 60% over that period. They tried to raise my house 25 in the last two

  • This is so annoying. Georgia and Upshur are pocked with vacant storefronts and now a great tenant is getting kicked out of an occupied one? Is Upshur so great nobody can afford it? What can be done about this?

  • So sad. I’m going to miss them.

  • So who’s the landlord and what are the lease terms (original and proposed)? Do tell. Otherwise, eh.

  • Sorry to be negative. But something Domku could have done is improve service and rationalize their menu. There is a reason it was often pretty empty. Service was so appalling I’d go once a year and resolve never to go again. Food was good but needed a wider range of price points to make it a regular dining experience. I feel for them but they could have weathered the rent increase with better business.

    • Yeah, Lrds, this is basically it. I liked the place a lot, and have had a lot of good times there. But service was lackluster. They also had a tendency to give the stink-eye to my friend with a wee child when she’d bring the kid with her. Not exactly a recipe for success in a neighborhood full of young families.

    • To be fair, running a business well is very hard and takes a very particular skill-set that many people lack. You can can be a brilliant chef/bartender/etc, but that in and of itself won’t guarantee lasting success.

      • To be fair they are in the wrong business if they don’t like their customers and can’t improve on consistently long, I mean really long, food times when the place was empty. They couldn’t make adjustments when it’s clear by everyone’s comments what was wrong with the place.

        • Oh, I completely agree with you – the owner clearly lacked the necessary skill set to run a successful restaurant.

          • I sense sarcasm here. I’ll bite.

            Kera clearly had the skills to start and run a successful restaurant for 12 years. She had a good run! But she also clearly didn’t have the skills to win over the number of customers she would need to pay more rent. There are only so many first-time customers you can get. Eventually you have to give them a reason to come back.

            If I had to quantify her skills gap, I’d say it was unable to give her about…66% more business.

          • No sarcasm here. Domku reliably failed to provide “hospitality” to its patrons. Given that she ran a hospitality business, it’s little wonder that it failed to continue attracting sufficient patronage to afford the increased rent. It’s just that few people wished to return given the poor service.

          • I live around the corner and did return about 10 times more than I’d liked to have. The new restaurants put an end to that. Someone mentioned their ire for children and it is completely true. I can’t believe how terribly we were treated just walking in with a kid. I’ll miss the Abelskivers (No idea how to spell it) but that is all.

    • That’s what I was thinking. I read this announcement as a variation on the “gentrifiers priced me out” theme. But, really, Domku seems to be as empty now as it was back when it was the only place on a block with no foot traffic. The rent increase was predictable; and increase in Donku’s covers should have been predictable, too. Instead, on Friday nights I’m only seeing a couple of two-tops in there. Usually still waiting for their drinks.

      Also, I have a hard time empathizing with people who talk out of both side of their mouth. “I helped boost the neighborhood’s vitality” and “the neighborhood is so fancy now I can’t afford it” shouldn’t come frontage same person.

    • Yeah, I remember when Domku opened we had high hopes, but we had so many outright terrible experiences there, including the owner being not just rude, but straight up hostile to us, that I don’t think we’ve been there in 6 years.

      • +1. Unfortunately this is so true. Wanted to support his place from the day it opened and gave it many chances but every time left frustrated and confused as to how their service could be so abysmal.

  • Sad for the neighborhood. On a side note, I am surprised to hear that summer is a slow season for a restaurant though. I feel like I eat out more in the summer, and it has a patio. I guess the flip side is a lot of people go out of town. Is summer slower for most places?

  • Surprised to hear they’re still open. Haven’t been back in a long, long time after too many forgettable experiences. I guess I wasn’t the only one.

    • I don’t know, it was pretty hard for me to forget the consistently poor service provided by rude employees.

  • “A dramatic rent increase is forcing owner, Kera Carpenter to leave the neighborhood she helped create.”
    .
    Love Domku and appreciate the lasting mark it’s made, but this is more than a little offensive to the thousands of neighbors who have lived in and loved Petworth for decades before Kera Carpenter arrived…

    • It’s hard to argue that was the same neighborhood though. Would you be less offended if it just said she help turn it from a mostly abandoned and crime ridden neighborhood to a vibrant diverse neighborhood?

      • petworth wasn’t “mostly abandoned.” 3/4 of the families on my block and the surrounding ones have been there for 2+ generations. also, we are still crime ridden and domku didn’t change that. if anything, gentrification seems to have driven crime rates UP

        • in recent years, anyway

        • +1000, again

        • VarnumGuy

          I’m assuming Kera, and the above poster, are specifically talking about that stretch of Upshur Street, where there was no sit-down restaurant at all until Domku moved in. Kera also helped start the Arts Fair, which has grown into an amazing event. Now, when you look at that block, there is a great mix of take out, hair places, convenience store, new bars, restaurants, a bookstore, Willow, a new diner–something for pretty much everyone in Petworth.

          • Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t argue with the great impact that she’s had on the neighborhood and I’m very sad to see Domku go. However, Petworth existed as neighborhood before all us gentrifiers arrived in the last 10+ years. Just because it has all this great stuff now bc of people like Kera, doesn’t mean that the neighborhood itself wasn’t a unique and distinct part of DC beforehand.

          • And yes, today’s Upshur is Upshur bc of Kera, no doubt.

      • I don’t what abandoned neighborhood you’re referring to, but it’s certainly not Petworth. When I moved into my house 10 years ago most of my neighbors had lived there since the 1970s. And most of them are still there. The only people who’ve “abandoned” our block have been very elderly people who passed and a couple of young couples who bought a house, moved in for a few years and then moved to the suburbs. Otherwise, very stable, and certainly not created by Domku.

        • Yeah, when we moved in which was a little before Domku, there were people already in Petworth, and apparently there were people living in this neighborhood all the way back to the 1920s.

      • Chiming in with the people to state that Petworth was never mostly abandoned and crime ridden. While the sea of luxury homes have increased and there has definitely been an increase (and very welcome) addition to the number of sit-down eating establishments, this was not a blighted neighborhood before the recent revitalization and growth that has occurred in the past ten years.

    • Absolutely. Christopher Columbusing at its worst.

  • I wish someone would bring in a fast-casual restaurant to Upshur. The options here are great, but if you want to get carryout there’s not much to chose from (yes, I know some of the restaurants here offer takeout). How about an Italian deli, or sandwich shop, or kabob shop? Or, since Alfie’s was having problems with the original space they were looking at on Upshur, they can take this over instead? My two cents.

    • Who needs fast-casual? I want fancy establishments to go with the highly leveraged $900k condo conversion I just bought!

      • I don’t understand this comment. Fast casual doesn’t mean low quality. I’m sure even people who live in 900k condos (which there are probably, like, 3 total in all of Petworth, if that) eat at Italian delis.

        • +1000 Guillermo Brown. There are so many young families moving in with a ton of disposable income, yet the best options to eat are Petworth Citizen? Chez Billy? Slash Run, I’ll agree is family friendly. But where is everyone? This place is a gold mine. Just wait til Slim’s Diner open. It’ll be jam packed all day! Park Place should be full of Cava, Taylor Gourmet, Chipotle, Sweet Greens and &Pizza. They’d do a killing.

          • If everyone would make a killing then why haven’t any of them opened??

          • Anony: Thats exactly my question. I heard there were issues with the owners only accepting certain chains (i.e. Dunkin Donuts). I also don’t think they’ve hired the best business recruiters. It’s sat vacant for almost six years while they get tax rebates from DC. It’s beyond deplorable. As of now, I got to Columbia Heights or Howard if I need a quick meal to go.

          • i’d argue that population density is too low as you start moving north of spring rd, and there needs to be more large apartment buildings. 200 new families isn’t going to support more than a new restaurant or two over the long term.

          • Maybe, but based upon the amount of people in Southern Petworth that go to CoHi, I doubt it. There has been a huge increase of condo buildings Georgia Ave & upper 14th St. Plus many single family row houses have been converted to condos. And the retail spac in Park Plave is above the metro. Have you seen how packed it is at rush hour? Even during the day! They’d do well on the commuter traffic alone.

  • Domku brunch was the main force behind Willow’s early years on Upshur Street. If they didn’t exist Willow would not exist. The 2011 Upshur Street Art and Craft Fair was my first day in business and the success of the day helped me get started out on the right foot. The Craft Fair continues to be my best day of the year and I will forever be grateful to Kera for her hard work and vision all these years.

    Kera has been a friend, a customer, and a fellow business owner for the last five years and I will miss her on the block!

    Every meal I ever had at Domku was excellent and it was my go to place for out of town guests. Where will I get my Jannson’s Tempation and Red Herring Pie? Domku was different and unique in the DC restaurant scene.

  • Ashy Oldlady

    This is sad news, and such a rent increase seems absurd. There are plenty of empty storefronts on Upshur as it is and none of the occupied ones are being rented by big chains who can afford big rents, so I don’t see the sort of demand that would warrant a 66% increase. So it’ll probably end up sitting empty for years. What a shame. Typical greedy landlord BS.

    • Are there empty store fronts? Many are currently being renovated as new restaurants prepare to open. And will it sit empty? I find it hard to believe that a built out restaurant will not get taken up fast.

      Raising rent 66% from 2005 isn’t that insane – a lot has changed and prices have gone up a lot in those 11 years. If Domku paid 3,000 per month in 2005, adding the standard inflation increase in usualy retail rent term, plus this 66% gets you to roughly 6,100 today. Why should the landlord keep the lease at 2005 prices given that retail contracts typically lock in lease rates for 10-15 years? Accordingly, if he/she doesnt change it now, and re-signs, the landlord won’t be able to substantially change rent until 2030. Now is the only window where he/she can re-negotiate it and bring it to current market prices.

      • I really, really doubt that she agreed to 3k/month in 2005. If so, that’s a dumb move from the get-go. I’d assume something in the 1.5-2k range.

        • If that’s the case, the new rent would have been around $3100-$4000 – not at all unreasonable.

          • Considering the same people own the TImber Pizza place and were asking $3500/month (triple net) for that and Domku is about 3 times the size of Timber I am guessing it is way more than $6000 and definitely not 3100-4000. I would put it in the ballpark of more like 8K-9K but really don’t know.

      • PN reported that her rent was going up 66%, resulting in a $3000/month increase. Based on my math, which could be way off (it’s been years since cross multiplying), she is currently paying about $4500 and they want to increase it to $7500. That seems insane?

    • Commercial rents don’t exist in a vacuum. How much have prices for residential housing risen since they signed their last lease agreement? How much more is that building worth than it was 10 years ago?

      • Exactly….if people don’t want their rents to rise, either residential or commercial, they should buy their buildings. Imagine how cheap this building could have been purchased for 12, 10, 7 years ago. I understand that can be hard to do and can include loans, bringing in business partners, etc. perhaps it’s less difficult than being forced out of a place you’ve worked hard for?
        If you rent, you will always be at the mercy of the landlord.

  • The irony of gentrifiers getting gentrified…

    • The Onion covered this a while back:
      .
      Report: Nation’s Gentrified Neighborhoods Threatened By Aristocratization
      .
      NEWS
      March 31, 2008
      VOL 44 ISSUE 14
      Environment
      .
      WASHINGTON—According to a report released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, the recent influx of exceedingly affluent powder-wigged aristocrats into the nation’s gentrified urban areas is pushing out young white professionals, some of whom have lived in these neighborhoods for as many as seven years.
      .
      Maureen Kennedy, a housing policy expert and lead author of the report, said that the enormous treasure-based wealth of the aristocracy makes it impossible for those living on modest trust funds to hold onto their co-ops and converted factory loft spaces.
      .
      “When you have a bejeweled, buckle-shoed duke willing to pay 11 or 12 times the asking price for a block of renovated brownstones—and usually up front with satchels of solid gold guineas—hardworking white-collar people who only make a few hundred thousand dollars a year simply cannot compete,” Kennedy said. “If this trend continues, these exclusive, vibrant communities with their sidewalk cafés and faux dive bars will soon be a thing of the past.”

      The rest is here http://www.theonion.com/article/report-nations-gentrified-neighborhoods-threatened-2419

  • This is the end of an era – Domku opened about a month before I moved to Petworth and in so many ways Domku was the “downtown” of the neighborhood long before other businesses ventured here. The food has always been delicious. I’m so sad to hear they’re closing! Best of luck to Kera.

    • “The food has always been delicious.”
      .
      We have different understandings of that term, apparently.

      • Last time I went with a group of 10 – every single thing was bad. I ordered a fish pate kind of thing – got an almost frozen chunk of fish paste. Asked, nicely, if it could be thawed a bit and was told that was how it was. So OK – points for austere frozen-northland wasteland authenticity, but if I go to a restaurant, I kind of want to enjoy the food.

  • I’m sad to see it go… but it’s with mixed feelings. I wish she would have worked harder to make it a thriving business where everyone felt welcomed. I am still sorry to see it go and I wish her all the best.

  • samanda_bynes

    loved the food. hated the service. still on the 30% chance that everything went as planned, it was amazing.

  • Greedy landlords – 66% come on man!. Their mortgage didn’t increase but they don’t care just an opportunity to make more profit BUT little do they realize this will sit vacant versus just staying with a reliable client who was guaranteed income.

  • I don’t think it will be vacant for long. The other places (Slimm’s and the pizza place) are taking forever because — it seems — they’re building dining where it wasn’t before. The Domku space, however, will already have a CoA, lots of infrastructure, and probably no need for variance.

    If she’s the revitalization wizard she claims to be, maybe she should move into Cajun Express and work her magic on the other end of Upshur.

    • Yes. 234 Upshur can use a good occupant. And I want their blueberry and blue cheese salad. I was just raving about it last night, while at Domku.

  • Seemed always hit or miss and they rarely changed their menu up. Always seemed to be empty and running out of items on the menu. I appreciated the place in the beginning the first few times, but too many bad experiences of late. Have gone there probably about 10 or more times, but over the past year did not want to go anymore as it seemed most experiences were on the negative side. As most have said, the service was below average and slightly rude. Having said that, I did appreciate the good experiences there and glad they were one of the first places I did go to when I moved to the area. Hopefully, the storefront doesn’t stay vacant too long.

  • I echo the complaints of service here. I’ve been 4 times in the last year or so, and the food was always good. However, the last time I went was dinner on a Saturday night with a judge and her husband. The gravlax, which admittedly I had never ordered, was so salty I could not eat it. The manager refused not to charge me for it, and I was not going to argue in front of the judge. I called the next day and spoke to Kera. She was there the whole time that evening and allowed that to happen! She did say she would give me $12 off (the cost of the dish) the next time I went, but why wouldn’t she intervene when it was happening? I don’t get it.

    • “I’ve been 4 times in the last year or so, and the food was always good. . . . The gravlax, which admittedly I had never ordered, was so salty I could not eat it.”
      .
      Come again?

      • The food was always good the 3 times before, and that was the first problem dish. It was more a customer service issue than food quality.

  • the world would be a better place without bloodsucking moneygrubbing filthy real estate paraisites. they bring nothing, they create nothing, they invent nothing they just feed off of everyone who can and does and replace beauty with their own ugliness.

  • Had one good dinner experience (even though the service was pretty slow). We went for brunch a few years ago and the food took forever and then came out ice cold. When we mentioned to the server that the food was inedible, the woman who I think was the owner came out and was very confrontational and wanted us to pay for inedible food. We never went back. Look, shit happens and restaurants have off nights. But, I’ve worked in many restaurants and the successful ones are accommodating to their guests when things do not come out well. I understand that it may be easy to think that people are trying to take advantage of restaurants, but I think that is not the case most of the time. So picking fights with customers is just going to piss them off and they won’t come back. I understand that the margins for restaurants are thin, but you make up for it in volume. You don’t get the volume if the service is bad and confrontational.

    • I can tell you the experience you had was spot on for about 75% of my visits. Unless you had 2-3 hours to burn for dinner, which as you said often comes out cold, you weren’t going to be happy.

  • Seriously? She did not “help create” the neighborhood. It was there before and will remain after the restaurant leaves. That sounds like some serious Christopher Columbusing in this article.

  • Nooooooo!!
    🙁

  • I hope rents don’t get too high and push independent restaurants out. A friend that lives in lovely AU Park/Tenlytown was just complaining about how the only restaurants that can afford to move into their area are chains like Chik-f-la and other chains. That’s exactly the kind of restaurant that we don’t want. Please landlords don’t let us become a Columbia Heights.

    • Product of Gentrification, right? Everyone wants to make money if they could.

    • God, I know. Who’d want something like the 11th Street strip in their neighborhood????
      .
      It really bugs me when the 14th & Irving environment is used as a synecdoche (I think I’m using this correctly) for the entire neighborhood. You’re really saying you wouldn’t want a Bad Saint, the Room 11 patio, or a beer bar like Meridian Pint to open up in Petworth? Because that’s what being like Columbia Heights looks like, too.

  • Side question – is there a neighborhood anywhere else in the country with higher home prices paired with higher crime rates? Petworth or Columbia Heights may be #1 in USA on this measure.

    • Georgetown has gone through phases of high crime

    • Pick any of a bunch of neighborhoods in the five boroughs of NYC (well not too sure about SI and Bx, but have personal knowledge that traditionally “higher crime” hoods in BK, Upper Manhattan and Queens have gentrified past 20 years). Pretty sure gentrification has hit “high crime” neighborhoods in Philly, Baltimore, Chicago and Boston.

  • Do they landlords own any of the other properties on the street?

  • Kera, Please consider moving up to Kennedy Street!

  • I am heartbroken!!! Please come to Kennedy street please! Or just anywhere. Domku has been my family’s favorite restaurant in DC since 2009. We will miss you.

  • Y’all please get a lawyer to help you sign a lease if you’re commercial! A lawyer fee is much less painful than being forced to move or close shop. They can help you write in clauses to limit rent increases to a certain percent annually. It is common practice, so find a different spot if the landlord won’t agree to it.

  • WOOOOO, she helped “create” this neighborhood. Ultimate scumbag. So your lease is up and you didn’t renegotiate for an extension? Or maybe you’re just sad you couldn’t get better terms. Tough shit. Welcome to the world.

  • Oh man! Loved this place. The doughnuts were amazing. So many positive vibes and good memories.

  • Domku was one of the few nicer sit down options when I moved to the area in 2008. And is still one of the few daytime options. Good food, good drinks, cute place. We will miss you Domku!

  • Liked the food, loved the Aquavit, loathed the service, enjoyed the brunch, sorry to see them ago.

    I think that captures everything.

    Also, this space will be filled up pretty quickly. A fully build-out restaurant space on this block of Upshur will be attractive to a number of potential owners.

  • I really hope Swampoodle opens (they’ve spent so much time and money fixing up the place and they’re soooo close). But if things fall apart and the owner doesn’t open, Domku, can you please take over Spampoodle’s space??? It’s beautiful.

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