Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Fourth restaurant closes at Congressional Plaza site

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When the PGA Tour Grill went dark in June it became the fourth restaurant to close its doors at the location on Rockville Pike where a Hot Shoppe restaurant once stood.

Although some residents associate the site's business trouble — tongue in cheek — to "the curse of the Hot Shoppe," high rent and other factors may have contributed, but a spokeswoman for the owners of the shopping center, Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) of Rockville, would not comment.

The site at 1699 Rockville Pike is perched near the intersection of Halpine Road. The freestanding building is situated between a PNC Bank and a Chevy Chase Bank, part of Congressional Plaza.

Janelle Stevenson of FRIT said she did not know the amount of rent charged at that location and did not comment on what kind of business she thought might work there.

Rory Coakley, president of Coakley Realty Inc. in Rockville, said he always heard the rent at that location was "extremely high."

"FRIT is going to charge the maximum they can charge," he said. "Being right next to the Pike, that location has great visibility."

Stevenson said she had "no idea" why the PGA Tour Grill closed and did not comment further.

In November 1995, a high-concept hunting lodge-themed restaurant called Shelly's Woodroast opened on the site. It was a new building with a large stone fireplace in the main dining room and a cigar lounge in the back.

Just three years after it opened, the restaurant's parent company, Minnesota-based Woodroast Systems Inc., sold the restaurant for $1 million in cash to a privately owned operator of casual-dining restaurants, according to an article in Nation's Restaurant News, an industry publication. The money, the article said, would be used to pay off a loan.

Montgomery Seafood Grill, an offshoot of the Montgomery Grill in Bethesda, took over the location until 2000, when That's Amore opened its doors at the site.

Coakley and Doug Hernan, a Twinbrook resident since 1993 who has patronized all four restaurants, said they thought the local Italian restaurant chain would have worked well since there are two popular locations already open nearby — on Shady Grove Road in Rockville and on Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia.

That's Amore lasted longer than any other business at the site, enduring five years, until 2005.

Hernan said he thinks the smoking ban that went into effect in Montgomery County in late 2003 and later in Rockville ultimately crippled That's Amore's bar business.

Calls for comment to That's Amore's corporate headquarters in Rockville were not returned.

On March 1, 2006, the PGA Tour Grill opened with an official license to use the name and logo of the Professional Golfers' Association.

Hernan said he was sure the concept would work.

"I thought for sure it was a winner," he added.