Montmartre and Seventh Hill Pizza Close – Victims of Pandemic Economics

Chef Stephane Lezla at 7th Hill Pizza this afternoon.

Montmartre and Seventh Hill Pizza Close – Victims of Pandemic Economics

May 18, 2020

by Larry Janezich

Montmartre Chef Stephane Lezla, who is Chris Raynal’s business partner in Capitol Hill’s institutions Montmartre and 7th Hill Pizza, confirmed today that the two restaurants are closing permanently. Lezla said, “Continuing doesn’t make sense – we were hit by a perfect storm and lost our best three months – March, April, and May – when we have most of our income. The business lost during the Cherry Blossom Festival is not coming back.” He said everybody had been helpful – the community, the restaurant’s providers, the staff, and the landlord. According to Lezla, “There is no one to blame, it was a decision Chris and I made.” Asked if it were possible they would reopen elsewhere, Lezla said, “Who knows?”

Other sources told CHC that the restaurant had been unable to negotiate a reduction in rent with building owner Stanton Development for the period the restaurants had been and expected to be affected by the pandemic. Likewise, some restaurants on Barracks Row have reported being unable to negotiate lower rents during the shutdown.

CHC reached out to ANC6B Commissioner and candidate for At Large City Council seat, Chander Jayaraman for comment. Jayaraman chairs ANC6B’s Barracks Row Working Group which will meet next Wednesday to discuss legislation proposed by Councilmembers Charles Allen and Mary Cheh that would permit temporary closing of certain streets to allow restaurants to expand their outside serving area to ease operations once the city starts to reopen. That legislation was scheduled to be taken up by the Council on Tuesday, but has been pulled from the agenda at the request of the Mayor.

Jayaraman said, “While COVID-19 continues to threaten the survival of small businesses, I hope property owners are compassionate and understanding of the challenges small businesses face, and will be supportive while these businesses are really hurting.”


Filed under Uncategorized

29 responses to “Montmartre and Seventh Hill Pizza Close – Victims of Pandemic Economics

  1. derekfarwagi

    This is a big loss to our neighborhood. Montmartre excelled at delivering a consistently high standard.

  2. Alia J. Khan

    This is heartbreaking!! I’m SO disappointed to hear that their landlords weren’t willing to negotiate. Montmartre is truly a DC institution, and their pizza place was certainly beloved as well. So, so sad.


    Ack! this is sad news…losing Montmartre and 7th Hill Pizza

  4. Karl

    Property owners have bills to pay, too.

    • Claire

      Yes, of course they do but do they think that someone will just come along in the next 6 months wanting to open a new restaurant? The build out, the marketing, the unknown….

    • W

      following that logic, the place will now sit idle for an extended period of time generating zero income with all the carrying costs. Not clear who the next tenant would be — who’s going to undertake a restaurant build-out amidst such uncertainty for the industry? There was a glut of food establishments before the pandemic and high rate of closures in a highly competitive market with narrow profit margins. Local retail locations were struggling vs online retail prior to the pandemic. Who would the potential new tenant be? Seems like Stanton would have been better served making concessions to keep Montmartre and 7th Hill in place. The numbers may still not have worked for Montmartre/7th Hill but it’s not at all clear how this is in any way a better outcome for Stanton.

  5. Something makes no sense here. Why would Stanton development evict two long-time tenants in the middle of a pandemic that is not going to bring in any new tenants anyway. Puzzled.

    • It's The End of Days

      Stupidity – or they will rent to a big chain. It’s all about the money for Stanton. They do not care about the community. They do not care about you. It’s all greed.

      • Claire

        I, and many, many others believe this to be true. I’ve been on the Hill over 50 years and for decades Stanton has been screwing over a great many folks and their businesses.

      • Kenn Allen

        This is the kind of dedication to the neighborhood that we have come to expect from Stanton Development. Dedicated to getting theirs first. Why go the extra mile to keep alive businesses that the neighborhood supports when you can go for the extra dollar instead? Shameful!!!

      • Voracious

        Does Stanton also rent to offices next to 7th Hill? It is interesting that Medstar also chose this moment to relocate their facility from this location.

  6. Marian Connolly

    This is a terrible blow for the Hill. How many businesses have we lost along 7th street because of Stanton Development Corp.’s unerring commitment to the bottom line without regard to the impact on the community at large.

  7. Thomas Kuchenberg

    I would like to second Claire here. How does it make economic sense to not negotiate a reduction in rent when not to do so means no rental income at all for an unknown period of time? So many of us with housing rental units here on the Hill have already negotiated such reductions.

  8. Wendy Blair

    Montmartre is irreplaceable. Its clients came from the entire area for always exquisite French cuisine elegantly served in a treasured cozy bistro atmosphere. But Stanton seems to have preferred renters it considers “high end” — those who pay the staggering rents at “The Residences at Eastern Market” — and unwanted, “niche” stores selling designer vinegars, or super expensive eyeglass frames (with an affordable frame store right across the street). Stanton may thrive in the era of Trump, but even in this era, every dog has its day. This wagging tail will end up getting bit.

  9. Marilyn Green

    What a loss! Going there was like going home to a place where all the staff knew us. They made special occasions, like birthdays, so special. The cuisine was excellent; a lot of love 💗 went into all they did. If I had the funds I’d give it to them. Oh, how we will miss you 😘!

  10. Marilyn Green

    What a loss! Going there was like going home to a place where all the staff knew us. They made special occasions, like birthdays, so special. The cuisine was excellent; a lot of love 💗 went into all they did. If I had the funds I’d give it to them. Oh, how we will miss you 😘! And I agree that Stanton could give this wonderful place a break. They are the heart of this neighborhood. We did not need more loss.

  11. Anne Wright

    Montmartre was a beloved Hill institution, and I’m saddened that it’s an economic casualty of the pandemic. Like so many in the neighborhood, I have warm memories of Montmartre’s delicious food and cozy atmosphere.
    Both Montmartre and Seventh Hill will be very much missed.

  12. Ellen Opper-Weiner

    I second Marian Connolly’s Comment. It is a shame to lose 2 beloved high quality neighborhood restaurants. The result is an unwelcome change to our neighborhood. Hopefully, Stanton Development will not replace these restaurants with chain restaurants, or end up not being able to rent the vacated space for an extended period of time. My concern is that the nature of our current community will be gone forever.

  13. Amy

    This is so sad. I have seen so many businesses close even before the pandemic because of landlords who raised rents. And still the buildings are empty. Some have been empty for years.Do the landlords receive some kind of tax break if they leave the building empty? If so, it should be stopped.

  14. Steve

    Montmartre. Please come back when things are better. I have made concessions to my tenant. Landlords should do their best to share the burden if at all possible. It does make good business sense.

  15. Alex B.

    Even with a rent reduction, it’s going to be very hard for a restaurant to survive if they get *zero* revenue from their three best months of the year.

    I hope they’re the last loss, but I doubt it.

  16. I sent this to Councilman Allen this afternoon. If you feel likewise, do the same.

    Dear Councilman Allen,
    Capitol Hill Corner reported last night that the owners of Seven Hill and Monmartre have announced that their restaurants will be closing permanently, as a result of being unable to negotiate a rent reduction with their landlord, Stanton Development.

    Assuming the report is accurate, this turn of events, which will throw a dozen or more people out of work and shutter two beloved Capitol Hill restaurants strikes me as not only precipitous but perhaps avoidable. Among the welter of federal and DC programs designed to assist small businesses adversely affected by the pandemic shut downs, is there not some program that could help the restaurants (and the landlord, for that matter) survive the economic squeeze caused by the pandemic shut downs?

    I would appreciate it if you could look into this situation and see if something can be done.

    • John

      Is it the place of local government to intervene in the matter of a contract negotiation between two private parties?

      • John,
        the technical answer to your hypothetical question is yes and no, qualified by it all depends.

        Certainly in the face of government shutdowns of all sorts of private enterprises in an effort to control an international pandemic, resulting in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the answer is more yes than no. In any event, my letter to Councilman Allen simply suggested that among the “welter of federal and DC programs designed to assist small businesses adversely affected by the pandemic shut downs” there might be some relief for either the restaurant or landlord in question that could help avert permanent shutdown of the restaurant.

        I would say, however, speaking hypothetically, that if I were in public office, say, sitting on the city council, I would have no reservations about jawboning anyone who was using the pandemic to squeeze small businesses, price gouge consumers, etc., especial in cases, continuing to speak hypothetically, where that anyone is a development company that routinely seeks favor with the government, e.g., public property development contracts, tax breaks, zoning variations, etc. If you get my drift.

        In any event, the instant matter is moot in that by the time the closure was reported here Monday at Capitol Hill Corner, the deal was done and the cheval had left the barn. Dan

  17. joyce jones

    Unfortunately, this is the behavior that you can expect from Stanton and those who are associated with it . I also understand that there is another instance on that block where the rent is being raised. Looking across the street at what they have created is bad enough–but now finally Stanton has the opportunity to create yet another disaster–and then just move on west!

  18. Voracious

    I agree with everyone else about Stanton. But it is telling that 7th Hill closed their Palisades location (which had not been open that long) right before the pandemic. I’ve been in DC long enough to recognize this pattern as a warning that the flagship location is likely to close. Nevertheless, I’m heartbroken that these two solid, longstanding restaurants will be leaving.

  19. ET

    I assume that the Hill (and DC writ large) will have a lot of empty spaces and they will be empty for several years. Prices for commercial rents are so high that it is likely a barrier to new business – particularly those that aren’t backed by deep pockets.

    As for big chains? I don’t expect them to rush in. Big name take-out? Those are mostly franchises and I think the opening new business engine is going to be very weak regardless of location, and I am not sure enough people are going to be comfortable going to a dine-in place for the next year for many places to open that aren’t already in the pipeline. For non-food establishments there isn’t enough customers on/coming to the Hill for them to make it worthwhile (I am counting the days until the Sephora leaves), particularly given bricks and mortar stores are hurting generally. No, most of the places will be more likely to sit empty until a dine-in place with a license to serve liquor wanders along.

    I am assuming Stanton (and other commercial property owners) will get their tax break for all the empty property.