Construction Provides Opportunity For Some Bethesda Businesses


Bethesda's development boom has meant relocation, dipping sales numbers and eviction for some businesses near major construction projects. Others have been able to get by or even improve sales, thanks in part to the many orange-vested, hard hat-wearing construction workers now in abundant supply. "Already, we're doing better at breakfast in two hours than we were for three hours at dinner," said Alonso Roche, owner and chef at Bold Bite (4901 Fairmont Ave.). Roche and company decided to add coffee, homemade donuts and cheese arepas to a menu known for its specialty hot dogs and hamburgers. The new breakfast items, coupled with a 8 a.m. to 4 p.m schedule for February and part of March, have attracted many of the workers on two projects (Bainbridge Bethesda and 7770 Norfolk Ave) that have made for a messy situation on Fairmont Avenue. With sidewalks closed, parking meters ripped out and construction equipment blocking road lanes, Bold Bite found that pretty much nobody was coming to the location during the darker dinner hours. "The whole Fairmont Avenue area has been kind of a big construction zone lately. That's been tough. We figured we should try out the breakfast," Roche said. On Tuesday, Roche said he sold out of donuts. The shop usually gets a rush of construction workers at 10 a.m., when they're on break. Roche said Bold Bite hopes to roll out the donut concept at a separate store and is piloting it with a food cart starting in May outside its Union Station location. He also hopes to reopen for dinner by the end of March. On Bethesda Row, sales at the Dunkin' Donuts slipped in the first year since parking at Lot 31 was taken away to make way for construction on a new underground garage and two residential buildings. But in the nine months since -- the nine months when more and more construction workers arrived on-site -- franchise owner Boris Lander said both sales and guest counts have rebounded. "Construction workers are patronizing the shop regularly," Lander said. "I believe that has helped to stabilize sales." Lander's Luis Group recently opened another Dunkin' location in the Bethesda Metro bus bay and is scheduled to open a combination Dunkin'/Baskin-Robbins location on Cordell Avenue on March 29. With the Bethesda Avenue store's lease coming up on May 30 and landlord Federal Realty not interested in extending it, Lander said the popular location near Lot 31 could be relocating to a space on Elm Street, though a deal is still in the works. Back on Fairmont Avenue, Roche said he realizes not every business around him has been as fortunate. A dispute over structural damage between the construction company behind the Bainbridge Bethesda project and the landlord of the building next door has meant four shuttered businesses, including the well-regarded Red Tomato Cafe on St Elmo Avenue. As the Bainbridge building nears completion and work on the 7770 Norfolk building ramps up across the street, Roche said he hopes better weather can help bring customers to the area. "Everybody is feeling it around here. The construction, the weather has been uncooperative I guess you could say," Roche said. "But we're plugging away."

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