“I really try to separate emotions from business, because I think when you involve emotions in it, it’s very easy to make bad decisions,” says Cathal Armstrong, the chef and restaurateur behind The Eat Good Food Group, of closing Old Town’s 14-year-old Restaurant Eve on June 2. “[But] it is sad. It’s something that’s very personal to us. Meshelle and I put our home on the line for it, and borrowed and scraped every penny we possibly could put together to make it happen, and it’s named after our daughter.”
Pragmatism won out over sentimentality, however, as the lease on the property is ending and the Armstrongs felt it was time to move on. “At the end of the day, we’re a business. We’re an employer; we have to pay rent; we have to pay our taxes; we have to pay our bills, and if we’re not able to do that, there just really is no option,” Armstrong says.
“When the economy tanked in 2007, Restaurant Eve’s business declined 25 percent immediately and never recovered from that,” Armstrong adds. “I think we’ve made every change that we possibly can and cut everything that we possibly can, to the point where it’s just not the same thing anymore.”
He also links the decline in business to a loss of interest from surrounding regions. “I think a big part of Restaurant Eve’s success was also attributed to the fact that we were able to draw people from outside of Alexandria when we were new and we were hot,” Armstrong says. “When you’re not new and you’re not hot anymore, you’re kind of done and everybody’s ready to move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, the market in Alexandria just hasn’t been enough to carry a restaurant like Restaurant Eve.”
The closure will leave a gap in the city’s dining scene. “There is very limited haute cuisine, special occasion dining left in Alexandria now,” Armstrong says. “It’ll be interesting to see who or what comes in to try and fill that market.”
The Armstrongs are currently looking for other properties in the area to revive Restaurant Eve, but not necessarily in Alexandria. “What we’re finding in Alexandria at the moment is that really the cost of real estate has exploded beyond what a restaurant out there is able to handle,” Armstrong says.
He’s not sure how the restaurant will change in its second iteration. “What interests me with that concept and that type of project is what we became renowned for, which was local, seasonal, very much driven by what’s on the market,” he says. “That’s a part of what I’m passionate about and what I’d like to recreate somehow.”
The Eat Good Food Group’s other restaurants include Society Fair, Hummingbird, PX and Eamonn’s in Alexandria, as well as Kaliwa at The Wharf. While the majority of these spots will stay the course, Armstrong says there are changes on the horizon for Eammon’s.
“I think pretty much everybody that lives in Alexandria has had their fish and chips fix in the last 13 years,” he says. “We’ve seen a pretty steady decline, not much growth in the business model, and it’s probably time for us to re-conceptualize.” The details of the new concept are still in the works.
The Amrstrongs are also working with The Eat Good Food Group’s bartender and business partner Todd Thrasher to open Potomac Distilling Company and Tiki TNT at The Wharf this fall. “There’s no rush,” Armstrong says. “I still have a good 20 years of work left in me.”