Longtime Restaurants Face Redevelopment
Fu Cheung has until Aug. 31. Foong Lin, his popular Chinese restaurant with the green awning at the corner of Norfolk and Fairmont Avenues, will be shuttered to make way for construction of a 17-story apartment building. After 26 years in Woodmont Triangle, Cheung and his staff of 18 employees will be without a home. "We don't know what to do next," said hostess Ling Mok. As Bethesda prepares to undergo a new wave of apartment and office development, established ethnic restaurants long thought to be the area's lifeblood must adapt. For Cheung, that means the possibility of having to relocate to somewhere other than Bethesda. And that would be like "starting over again," he said. Cheung said he is waiting to hear back on one potential new location in Bethesda. But if that falls through, he'll be forced to look to Rockville or Potomac. The potential for redevelopment is always out there, said Marco Troino, owner of the Pines of Rome (4709 Hampden Lane). "It's always something people ask us," Troino said. "As Bethesda has been rebuilt and rebuilt over the last 25, 30 years they come with this kind of gossip every so often." Troino celebrated his restaurant's 40th anniversary earlier this month. Its patterned tablecloths, white pizza and homey atmosphere have made it a favorite among longtime Bethesda residents, even as the newer restaurants of nearby Bethesda Row have gained a foothold. ExxonMobil, which owns the property next to Pines of Rome at 7340 Wisconsin Avenue, is preparing to sell the site, according to a report last year in Bethesda Magazine. Troino is confident if and when new development is proposed for the land, his property won't be affected. But things can change quickly. Cheung originally thought he would be able to remain in Woodmont Triangle through the end of the year, but JBG Companies, developer of the 4900 Fairmont project advised him that he must be out of the building by September. There are about a dozen apartment or office projects under review, in planning stages or under construction in the Woodmont Triangle area alone, according to the development map created earlier this summer by the Bethesda Chevy Chase Regional Services Center. Those projects would bring a projected 2,100 new apartment units and the accompanying ground floor retail space, space Cheung has found he can't afford. A quarter-century ago, he paid $14 per square foot a year at his 4,000 square-foot restaurant. Today, prices mostly range from $25 per square foot to as much as $50 per square foot, Cheung said, making the choice to keep the restaurant open somewhere else difficult. Haandi, the Indian restaurant around the corner at 4904 Fairmont Avenue, was fortunate. Co-owner Madan Sundriyal found a new space nearby, in the old Uptown Deli at 7905 Norfolk Avenue. Sundriyal hopes to have the move finished in three months. "We feel very lucky," Sundriyal said. Cheung, so far, has not been as lucky. Children and grandchildren of longtime customers have been coming in, after word of Foong Lin's fate spread earlier this summer. "It's changed a lot," Cheung said. "I'd hate to go."