Rats Present Obstacle to Starbucks’ Liquor License at 3rd and PA Avenue, SE
by Larry Janezich
Thursday night, ANC6B’s Alcohol Beverage Committee considered Starbucks’ request for a liquor license for its outlet at 3rd and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. Some commissioners want Starbucks to provide indoor trash storage at the location because serving wine and beer with small plates until 11:00pm will increase their volume of rodent-sustaining garbage and trash. Theses commissioners say the coffee shop can’t handle the refuse they produce now. Neighbors near the intersection, which is home to five restaurants in close proximity, say the area is plagued with rats fed by garbage and trash from those restaurants.
This blog has recently reported on the issue here: http://bit.ly/1ZJaa6W. (That report, primarily concerned the three nearly adjacent restaurants owned by celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn. Since then, there has been no official word from Mendelsohn on how he will deal with the rat infestation which neighbors say his restaurants bring to the neighborhood. A Mendelsohn representative told an ANC Commissioner who is pushing for more Mendelsohn/neighborhood engagement that the owners have had enough meetings with neighbors.)
So that there would be no mistake about Starbucks concern, the company rolled out some big guns to demonstrate their commitment to cleaning up their act: a corporate counsel, a regional supervisor, a district manager, a regional physical plant manager, a local physical plant manager, and the manager of the 3rd and Pennsylvania Avenue outlet. This Starbucks is one of the 9 outlets in the city (out of 64) which is applying for an alcohol license.
Starbucks’ counsel, Steve O’Brian, says the company is expanding their menu to target singles by providing a space for them to have a glass of wine and food without the “high pressure atmosphere of a bar.” Starbucks personnel distributed the anticipated evening food menu, which included “Artichoke and Goat Cheese Flatbread, Chicken Sausage and Mushroom Flatbread, Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Pita Chips, Bacon Wrapped Dates, Meatballs with Tomato Basil Sauce, and Truffle Mac and Cheese” among other offerings. None of the food will be prepared on site – it will be trucked in and heated in a microwave.
Committee Chair Chander Jayaraman, at a previous meeting, had shown Starbucks executives photos of the outlet’s filthy trash storage area, with open trash bins piled high with garbage bags and large quantities of rat feces next to the dumpsters. O’Brian said the trash storage concerns had gone “very high up” in the corporation. (Capitol Hill Corner reported on the same trash storage conditions in October of 2013 – see here http://bit.ly/20zWtaX. This same post carried an account of the measures the Mendelsohn family pledged to take to control the rat problem associated with their restaurants. The neighbors say that the Mendelsohns did not live up to their agreement. The example of that experience is causing consternation among commissioners who heard similar pledges from Starbucks. Following the 2013 post on Starbucks, instead of improving, the trash situation got worse.)
Confronted with those explicit pictures of the deplorable trash storage conditions at Starbucks, O’Brian expressed profound embarrassment on behalf of the company. That impact of that embarrassment was undercut by the photos he offered to demonstrate how Starbucks had cleaned up the storage area to a point which they thought would be a model for moving forward. Some commissioners found the photos more than troubling and the effort inadequate; the photos of the “clean” area showed battered dirty dumpsters, some with open lids revealing plastic bags and one with cardboard refuse piled high in an open bin. Commissioners clearly felt that the Starbucks team just wasn’t getting it.
The committee then heard from a half dozen neighbors who told story after story of rats overrunning the neighborhood and traveling back and forth across 3rd Street from the trash behind Pret a Manger, Good Stuff Eatery, We The Pizza, La Béarnaise and Starbucks. Neighbors complained of being unable to use their back yards because of the stench of rat and restaurant waste. One neighbor has spent more than $20,000 to rat proof his yard. The occupants of the building next to Starbucks, who say they witness dozens of rat sightings a night from their front porch, complained that the recent power washing of rat feces from Starbucks’ trash storage area, had washed it into their basement.
O’Brian pledged that the storage area would be kept clean, trash pickup would occur seven days a week instead of six, and trash containers would be serviced once a year for cleaning and repairing. (Regarding the latter condition, questioning revealed that this is already standard operation procedure.)
Commissioners Jayaraman, Hoskins, and Chao scoffed at Starbucks’ claim that it was too costly and problematic to create an indoor trash storage area. Commissioner Chao told O’Brian that his assertion that indoor trash storage was cost prohibitive “rubbed me the wrong way. You’re Starbucks.” Commissioner Diane Hoskins said that she was offended at the claim of it being too expensive: “It’s a joke…you’re not a mom and pop store.” She said that the proposed clean up Starbucks offered as a model was “not what we need to see.” Chairman Jayaraman said, in support of the push for indoor trash storage, “It doesn’t matter what kind of trash can you use – rats can climb right up the side to get inside. I’ve seen them.” Jayaraman asked Starbuck executives to “be courageous and do the right thing.” He noted that Capitol Hill investor Maurice Kreidler was part owner of the building Starbuck leases. (Kreidler also who owns the building occupied by Starbucks at the 8th and Pennsylvania Avenue intersection as well as the former XOXO cleaners soon to the home of & Pizza, and the former site of Craze Burger which will soon become Michael Babin’s new Barracks Row restaurant.) Jayaraman cited Kreidler’s cooperation with the ANC’s instituting best operating practices in the &Pizza location and urged Starbucks to seek Kreidler’s cooperation in pursuing indoor trash storage for the 3rd and Pennsylvania site.
Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk, in whose single member district the Starbucks resides, urged the ANC to give Starbucks the benefit of the doubt, pointing out that the Starbucks’ liquor license – if granted – would be back before the ANC next March, when all liquor licenses in ANC6B come up for renewal and “we can address the situation then if it hasn’t improved.”
In the end, that’s what happened as the ANC agreed to a motion by Samolyk that the Committee forward the request for a license to the full ANC for consideration without a recommendation. In the meantime, she said, she would organize a meeting between Starbuck representatives and neighbors over the weekend in hopes they could find common ground before the ANC meeting. The full ANC meets next Tuesday in Hill Center at 7:00pm.
The neighbors who had come tonight were disappointed, clearly hoping for something stronger. One was heard to say regarding the Committees vote for taking no position and calling for a meeting with neighbors, “It doesn’t mean a thing.” Another said as they left the room after the vote, “Democracy in action.”