Stefanie Gans: Why do we all care so much about new restaurants?
Missy Frederick: Oh it’s definitely prevalent in D.C., though I doubt we’re the only city that has it.
SG: Why don’t we care anymore about the great restaurant that’s just a year old or six months old?
MF: Some of the ways it plays out here particularly, is the fact that: A) people will actually pay lots of $ for these random pop-ups and B) that people will actually wait in line for hot places.
SG: For status? For Instagrammable proof? Or because they actually care about new food?
MF: Well, it’s interesting in D.C. because I think as long as it’s perceived as “hot,” it can still be older and have the craziness. See: Rose’s Luxury, as they’re at least two years old at this point, right? I don’t know if it’s status in the way that we think of, like, people droppin’ dollas. But I do think there’s that element of social media and “getting there first.” You see that play out on Yelp with people wanting to be the first to review a place the night of opening.
SG: Doesn’t everyone know a restaurant doesn’t have their shit together on day one? Or maybe even week three?
MF: I think that we as industry insiders know that.
SG: I have people ask me all the time: “Have you been to X restaurant?” And I’m like, “NO. It opened four days ago.”
MF: Yes! This happens to me all the time.
SG: Then they’ll complain about service. NO SHIT SERVICE SUCKED. Do you have a window that you let go by before you think it’s good to go to a new restaurant?
MF: And even if diners know, I’m not convinced how much they care. The desire to get there outweighs the desire to wait it out.
SG: Do you wait a month? Or do you feel the need to be there right away for your job?
MF: As a reporter, I may need to go to an opening party. Since I’m not a critic, I don’t feel the pressure that someone writing a first bite column may have. But I do think I will run into such things as readers asking me about it, judging whether it should be on [Eater’s] Heat Map, etc., if I wait too long. If I were a “regular” diner I think 90 percent of the time, I would wait 2-3 weeks. But even I am not above getting swept up.
SG: How do you decide which restaurants deserve pre-coverage?
MF: We’re a comprehensive site, so in a way we pre-cover everything, i.e. we note every opening we are aware of.
SG: So basically the story is *it’s new.* It doesn’t need another hook. Which plays into the NEED FOR NEW.
MF: Sure. I think news sites inherently cover what is new because new = news. “This restaurant exists and has for 10 years” isn’t a news story. It’s an ad.
SG: Do you think those places aren’t surviving anymore because of lack of coverage? Is being a regular a dated concept because people need to collect new places?
MF: I think there is a certain type of diner for sure, though, that is going to always be seeking the new. But there are so many types of diners. There are some diners who don’t want to leave their three blocks near their house. There are diners with kids who only want family-friendly places. I think what we’re talking about is a phenomenon and a subset of D.C.’s dining culture (and it’s easy to assume that 20- and 30-something Instagrammers are the Entire World). But I think even if you talk to some of those people about, say, their favorite bar, they’ll have a bar where they consider themselves a regular. I don’t want to say it isn’t challenging to be an older restaurant in some ways. But it also isn’t easy to get a table at Rasika on a Friday right now, and they’ve been around for a decade.
SG: Are Eater’s most popular stories the ones about new restaurants? Is that what drives traffic to the site?
MF: Not inherently. Stories like our anticipated season guides do awesome, as well as where Michelle Obama eats.
SG: What types of restaurants are you seeing opening lately? Any common themes?
MF: I would emphasize pop-ups being everywhere, which speaks to your point about the new. My pop-up guide is always very popular. Raw bar seems really big right now, especially with the [Southwest D.C.] Wharf development. Southeast Asian. Sushi burritos, for better or worse haha.
SG: Do you see that across the country too? Or are some of these D.C.-area specific? Any NoVA trends for new restaurants?
MF: The sushi burrito just came to NY, god help them. Seeing more ramen in Virginia lately, with Marumen, Gaijin, Yona and that new chain coming to Mosaic. And more expansion from chefs like [Mike] Isabella/[Bryan] Voltaggio, etc.
SG: Do you think any trend hit NoVA before D.C.?
SG: We have a lock on beer. What do you think makes a restaurant push through buzz and stay popular? Once the buzz dissipates, what keeps people going?
MF: I think consistency is a big factor and something that D.C. restaurants can struggle with because diners here are A) generally pretty discerning (or in some cases picky) and B) totally ready to move on if they’re not satisfied with a place.
It’s tough to have an off night and retain repeat business. I constantly hear people say “this place did X [not-that-big-a-deal-offense] and I will NEVER GO THERE AGAIN.” If a place is proactive to mitigate those concerns, that can help, too.
And obviously overall quality and tapping into something unique (i.e. Bangkok Golden being really one of the only places for Lao food forever.)
SG: What are you hearing from the restaurant side of things on the pressures of being a new restaurant? All the pre-opening build-up—that’s a lot of eyes on something that hasn’t even served food.
MF: I think it’s hard for a restaurant to have a “soft opening” anymore. But I also don’t always have the most sympathy for that either. I think it’s unrealistic for a restaurant to expect not to have its opening noted when they’re charging customers, but I also think those customers could stand to go in with a more open mind. So I see both sides.
SG: Any predictions for what’s coming?
MF: I think you’re going to see more things along the lines of Chase the Submarine. Fast casual, chef-driven. We’re already seeing it with Beefsteak, Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s sandwich place, but I think even more with chefs like Tim Ma, well-known in the area but not national profile. Not sandwiches in particular, but fast casual or single/limited menu item-type things from local chefs.
SG: I guess the cult of the new restaurant is really nothing new? It’s just a new generation liking new restaurants and it’s always been like this? Or is it exacerbated now?
MF: I think restaurants and food are just becoming this uber-hobby for younger people. I mean, I can only speak to the past eight-ish years I’ve covered restaurants, but it’s been there since I have been. It’s definitely more noticeable with social media.
SG: And gotten more rabid every year?
MF: Yeah. Part of me wants to say consistently rabid. But I think more rabid is fair. I’m not sure people would be selling out 80 zillion pop-ups from untested chefs five years ago in D.C. Economy’s better now too, and D.C. in general has been much more protected than most in terms of people being able to spend more $ to go out.
SG: Last thoughts?
MF: I guess my last thought is that I am absolutely fine with people being obsessed with new restaurants as it keeps me employed!