Cap City Diner…The Elephant in the Room

by Sara Thayer

While we clamor for new and improved business on Rhode Island Avenue NE, other neighborhoods with similar hopes said good-bye to a 2-year old diner on Bladensburg Road in Trinidad. The Capital City Diner, affectionately known as the Cap City Diner closed its doors last weekend. The Cap City Diner, housed by an antique diner car transported from New York, offered inexpensive diner fare prepared behind the eat-in bar and booths. Service was surprisingly fast and there was a genuine sense of appreciation for your business. The waffles were delicious. The fried chicken was spectacular. And unlike the national competitor (I’ll say it, Denny’s!) you could get a bloody Mary with your eggs. Yet, while Denny’s thrives across the country, Matt & the Capital City Diner crew packed up their “mom and pop” business, driven out, according to their good-bye letter, from:

…rising costs, a declining economy, and a national chain “diner” restaurant opening almost a stone’s throw away.

Many stories have already covered the closing of the diner, but there is still the lingering elephant in the room that has not been addressed: How can places like Rhode Island Avenue NE expect to attract businesses when unique, beloved establishments such as the Cap City Diner go under the second a large, dime-a-dozen national chain moves in across the street? How can we expect entrepreneurs to take a chance on RIA Ave NE when patrons become busy, the economy remains bad, and supporting your local business suddenly becomes a burden? The psychology literature calls this the “bystander effect,” where we see something unpleasant happening, but feel less responsibility to act than if weren’t others there to share the responsibility (and blame). How responsible would we feel if Flip It closed its doors? Or Lace? Looking forward, we need to think about how we as individuals are responsible for the success of businesses that are already on the avenue rather than complaining that we don’t have enough. The success of one is a success for all.

My challenge to you, the reader, is to think of at least one business on the Avenue or even 12th str. that you have been “meaning” to visit, regardless of whether you have visited there before. Go to that business this week, and report back here on the RIA Insider blog about your experience (please be courteous). Better yet, after you have done that, hop on over to Yelp (or your preferred rating mechanism) and give that business a shout out.

My business? Carl’s Subs. Lunch is calling.

*********

Author Edit as of 2/07/12 9:58 PM

I have to say, I am surprised by the immediate responses. Although the article began with an example and admittedly *personal* praise of a local business that has gone under, the purpose of the article was to highlight how we as consumers have a responsibility to help perpetuate businesses in our own area. Personal conjectures about why a specific business had to close is merely speculation, as far as I’m concerned. Further, readers have taken this as an opportunity to vent things they did not care for about the Diner, which is not really the purpose of the article. I urge you to see beyond your personal feelings about the diner that was ‘case-in-point’ and think about how you can and do help (or hurt) business that is on or near the Avenue NE, and think about exploring your neighborhood beyond your comfort zone to give other businesses a chance.

Best,

Sara

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20 thoughts on “Cap City Diner…The Elephant in the Room

  1. The Denny’s is a locally owned, small business. We shouldn’t attack local franchisees like this. You can write a big business vs. small business piece, but this isn’t it. Having eaten at the Diner dozens of times, and having eaten at the Denny’s once, I was impressed with the level of service at the Denny’s, after several incidents at the Diner with orders being wrong, and service not really as prompt as you imply, it was refreshing. While competition between the two, in the geographic proximity may have been the nail in the coffin, there are several reasons the Diner failed, not just another small businesses moving into the neighborhood.

    I look forward to the Diner possibly moving locations and reopening, I hope they do, and I wish them the best of luck.

    1. We really haven’t gotten the real reasons why Cap City Diner closed. AFAIK, they are retooling the business and may open again in another format. So there’s really nothing to lament about. The Trinidad community just didn’t want to support them. I tried the food at Cap City Diner over a year ago because I heard such wonderful things about the place. When I got there the seats inside the diner where torn up and/or covered with taped. It felt like I was in a junk yard. And, the food just wasn’t good. I really had to question this experience. So, as a reality check, I talked to people who work in that neighborhood. And, they agreed the food was bad.

      I really don’t go to places like Flip-it, Lace, or Carl’s. As we get more places like Five Guys on the Avenue, I’ll be happy. I haven’t even tried the places in Bloomingdale, because they are just too far. 12th Street has more shops than RIA but they are too far from the Metro. So, for now I’ll keep my regular routine. I just don’t have time to be experimenting with the places and not being satisfied.

      1. Woodie,

        I live in Trinidad. Not sure who you talked to who worked in my neighborhood (and not sure who works in the neighborhood – we have very little in the way of commercial enterprises in our little enclave), but to imply that there was universal dislike of the diner by Trinidadians is incorrect.

      2. Until you start eating at some of the places we already have, nothing more will come. And if your diet consists mainly of places like Five Guys, you might be interested in the new health center that just opened on RIA.

    2. The fact that Denny’s is a locally owned business is a very good distinction to make. However, I would argue that the national reputation likely preceded itself. I think the collective we often opt for what we think is the “safer” bet rather than giving all businesses a fair shake. In a perfect world, both Denny’s and the Diner would coexist. I like options too!

      1. Another important distinction to make is the fact that a franchisee has the weight of a national (global?) supply chain behind them, as well as national advertising. That’s a fiscal advantage that looms very large against a small, independent competitor.

      2. Mostly to IMGoph here, but to the general point as well, that supply chain, big-ticket advertising and name recognition, and other benefits of being a national chain – franchised or not – allows Denny’s to keep its prices low. Low prices are good for consumers, but the servers receive lower tips, profit margins are regulated and thin so all staff is bare-bones and poorly paid, and global supply chains increase “efficiency” all up the line giving money to corporate agribusiness over local growers, national trucking companies rather than owner-ops, etc.

  2. Unfortunately, the Capital Diner has no one but itself to blame for its demise. The place had gone down tremendously and so fast. So much so, that I refused to eat there. The owners took a golden opportunity and they allowed the place to go down. The last time I was there, they were mopping the floor with dirty bleach, the waitress was setting her own menu and prices, and it was being runned by the hired help. This was obiviously being managed from afar. I expected this and it happened. If you want people to spend their money, then keep the place up and provide a quality environment wtih great service and great food. In the end, this place offered none of that.

    1. Samantha,

      I have no idea what you’re talking about. Managed from afar? The owner lives two blocks away, and was at the diner day in and day out, putting in extensive hours there in addition to his other two jobs. Was he there all the time? Of course not. But to imply otherwise is false.

  3. I went to the diner four times. Each time I told the staff that the food was too greasy and too salty. My friends and family who tried it out shared the same opinion. One of my friends told me he spoke to the manger about the food problem. Nothing changed. The business closed because the food was bad. A diner cannot stay open if it does not serve good food.

  4. I did what the author suggested and made the point of going to Decadently Divine Desserts on 12th st. on Saturday to buy some cupcakes for a dinner party my wife and I were having to support our local businesses. The woman who waited on me seemed put off that I was there, didn’t respond when I greeted her, huffed out the kinds of cupcakes they had available after I asked what I was looking at, asked me if I had a lighter(?), and didn’t thank me for spending $14 on 6 cupcakes, which in the end varied from not great to okay. So the question is, why would I ever go back? If you can’t bring customer service, value, or a good product, you don’t deserve to stay in business. We all want more commerical ventures in the neighborhood, but I’m not giving away my money to anyone who isn’t bringing me a good product. People can be upset about Cap City Diner closing, but they clearly weren’t doing something right or they wouldn’t be closing.

  5. I never understood the fascination with CCD. My husband, daughter, and I had brunch there one weekend and while the unlimited mimosas were good, the huge roach I saw scurry across the floor…not so good!
    I could’t wait to get out of there, the place IMO was filthy and the food just OK. I support local businesses and would much rather go to Flip-it where the food is good and the place is bright, sunny, and CLEAN!

    I dont understand why we must hype and tolerate establishments that are unclean and sub-par just because it’s in our neighborhood. While I get the need and desire for viable businesses in our communities, let’s be honest with ourselves, CCD was unacceptable.

  6. I agree with the editor’s note to this article. Let’s not get too distracted by the debate over CCD and instead focus on the need to frequent establishments in the area. Even if there isn’t a definitive flagship business along the corridor, Sara is right that we should be engaging economically in the community, even when options are limited. Or, when we go into other communities as consumers, engage owners/managers in a conversation about RIA. I went into Chocolate City Brewery recently and made the pitch for them to think about the Woodridge Main Street area as a place for a possible restaurant/pub location (as I bought two growlers of beer). I also went to the new pet store in Hyattsville and talked to the owner about our area (she lives in the neighborhood, by the way). If you have a type of business that you’d like to see in the neighborhood, I’d encourage you to do the same thing. In the meantime, check out Carl’s in the day-time for a sub, the vegetable sides at Golden Skillet, Flip-It on the weekends for brunch, or Lace in the evening for a drink.

    1. CEH,

      I think we can do much better than your suggestions. We have to demand the best. I tried Golden Skillet, and the food was too greasy. I tried Taste and they don’t have much variety, neither does Carl’s. I tried Colonel Brook’s and when I ordered take-out late at night, the food was too salty. I ordered take-out from BCafe, and it was too salty. I went back to both Colonel Brook’s and BCafe and complained. Eventually, Colonel Brook’s took the item off the menu. With BCafe, I just don’t trust them for reliable take-out because it happened again even after I complained. I still go there to eat-in. These places really need to heed our comments and fix the situation. Then, we will come. Don’t forget the Liquor store near Lace. Why didn’t the community support that? The owner did his best to inundate us with email/listserv sale announcements on imported wines, etc. But he still went out of business. Nothing is assured. Quality must be persistent.

      1. Woodie, the liquor store that closed SUCKED. I have a larger selection of wine in my basement than he did, the store was totally ugly, and he didn’t even take down the bullet-proof glass….not exactly welcoming. And yes, he did inundate us, OVER and OVER and OVER again with his wine tastings, which I went to once, and it was like a $9 bottle of wine he was serving.

  7. I know that the point of this article is about supporting local business, not a critique of the diner. But I really have to weigh in. I moved to RI Ave at the end of last summer after spending 8 years in Trinidad, so I’m a local. And I really liked the diner, all aspects. My wife, son and I will miss our weekend breakfasts over there.

  8. I totally disagree with the Author’s edit that: “readers have taken this as an opportunity to vent things they did not care for about the Diner, which is not really the purpose of the article.” Why is the truth so painful? We are just letting you know what we have experienced. Why can’t merchants take this information and learn from it to improve their products and services? I like MisterWeederson’s response: “… it sucked.” If Cap City retools and reopens, so much the better, just follow our advice. Ditto, for other RIA businesses.

    1. There is nothing to disagree with. I was stating that it wasn’t the purpose of the article. I wrote it, so therefore I should know. I don’t mind the conversation evolving, but I wanted to point out that the purpose was not to solicit feedback on an establishment that no longer exists to help move beyond a strict conversation on our feelings about the Diner.

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