Eateries Reap Bounty from Inauguration Crowds

Inauguration weekend was a restaurant’s owner dream, especially for eateries near the nation’s Capitol. Joyous crowds of tourists and locals readily opened their wallets, even in this recession, to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first African-American president.

At T.G.I Fridays, in Foggy Bottom, the restaurant was filled with a lively energetic crowd. General manager Mark Morris said the inauguration has helped business tremendously. “We have had a substantial increase in sales and a very good turnout, Morris said, “Right now this inauguration has been a very strong boost for those who work here because those who were only getting 20 to 30 hours are now getting 40 plus.”

Fridays opened at 7 a.m. to sell breakfast instead of its usual 11 a.m. opening. The restaurant offered such inauguration-themed drinks like The First Ladytini, The Bailout Martini, Impeach the Captain, Dirty Politics, and Presidential Sidecar.

In Chinatown, Matchbox was a little slow around noon on Inauguration Day, but host Aquinta Curtis said it gets crazy around 5 p.m. Perry Smith, one of the partners at Matchbox, said the business has been steady even during the recession. “We are in such a good location because we are near the Metro and the Verizon Center, so economically we’ve been doing pretty good,” he said. Server Jason McIntosh said the volume of business had definitely picked up in the past four or five days.

At the historic, black-owned Florida Avenue Grill, a popular tourist spot for 65 years, it was a major task just getting through the door. Once inside all the seats were filled with people from around the world getting a taste of what Washington, D.C., has to offer. Customers dined on soul food such as fried chicken, fish, yams, rice, and mouth-watering cornbread.

Florida Avenue Grill Manager Dominick Jacobs, said there was no question that the inauguration was having a significant impact on his business. He said sales had tripled over the past weekend and that was especially needed since the downward spiral of the economy.

Florida Avenue had created a presidential special, the $8.50 Change The World breakfast features two hotcakes, bacon or sausage, two eggs, and a choice of apples, grits, or homefries. The restaurant also offered President Obama commemorative inauguration menus for $25.

Surrounded by pictures famous diners like Ludacris hanging on the wall, Dermont Givens, of Los Angeles, said that he read about Florida Avenue Grill in several articles. Givens and his family enjoyed a meal of homemade fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, biscuits, and cornbread.

Rhonda Bell, from Connecticut, said that she came to Florida Avenue Grill and waited two hours, because she heard that it had the “best soul food in town.” Al Miner, a D.C. native, brought his friend Leigh Thompson, of New York, to enjoy the experience.On U Street, Ben’s Chili Bowl had a line wrapped around the store and into the alley. People waited for two hours just to get a taste of Ben’s famous chilidog. Complete strangers bonded as the withstood the cold and the long wait.

Waitress Bria Hillard, who has been working at Ben’s for two years, said that it has been even busier than this since Barack Obama’s visit in the previous week. The youngest of Ben’s employees at 17, Hillard was lucky enough to shake hands with Barack Obama when he came in to dine.

Not all D.C. restaurants reaped bountiful crowds. At Hitching Post on Upshur Street, in the Petworth section of Northwest, D.C., the small, intimate eatery was relatively empty, despite the nearby crowds on Inauguration Day. Michelle Rashaed, of Milwaukee, sat with her family laughing and joking in one corner. She said she read about the restaurant on the Web. Denise Tucker, part of Rashaed group said, “Since we are black business owners, we thought it would be a good idea to patronize this family.”

In the quest to find places to eat and a good meal, people not only got their appetite fed but their souls fed also.