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Wild Onion Tamed By Recession

Hyattsville restaurant closes after three years in business at University Town Center.

The closing of the restaurant this past week in University Town Center has left about a dozen people without a job and scores of customers searching for a new place to catch a mid-day bite to eat.

At 5 p.m. on Friday, the restaurant closed for good after three and a half years in business. Owner Rasheed Abdurrahman said the Great Recession doomed the Wild Onion almost from the get-go.

"In short, we opened in 2008, two months before the recession hit," said Abdurrahman in an email to Patch. "Our bills were based on pre-recession high rent, big bank loan, and the mall has not seen its full potential…we tried to work through the tough times, but low sales, no money is a bad combination."

Abdurrahman, a 1994 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America with a resume that included stints at posh Washington hotels, says the staff was like family to him. Now, those family members will have to find new jobs. Employees were notified of the closing on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

Cook Malik Carter said he saw the writing on the wall, noting that the restaurant had a strong lunch hour but saw little business during other times of the day. He had been sending out applications to other jobs for a few weeks. His efforts paid off, and he has a new job lined up as a theater technician.

Another former Wild Onion cashier was not so prepared.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," lamented a cashier to a customer over the clatter of kitchen staff cleaning up at the tail end of the final shift.

Abdurrahman also fondly remembered his regular customers, most of them workers in the surrounding office buildings, but said local residents never supported his business in sustainable numbers.

"I do wish more people in the Hyattsville community would support small local business," wrote Abdurrahman. "I would get a lot of requests from local people to donate to their event or group, which we did, but many did not spend their dollars with us."

Many former patrons of the restaurant were quick to point out the fleeting presence of other retail tenants in the development. There's Three Brothers, which has already seen one closing only to be reopened under new management. Among the list of failed businesses at UTC are a dry cleaners, Gifford's Ice Cream and the Soup Man restaurant.

"Nobody stays here more than a minute" said one National Center for Health Statistics employee as she puffed on a cigarette last Friday afternoon.

"We're all saddened to hear that they are closing," said restaurant customer Karen Christopher as she walked out of the store with one last Wild Onion meal. "The food was good, the service was good. We asked for fliers if they ever relocate."

Customer Jennifer Peregoy, a vegetarian, was disappointed when she heard the news.

"For vegetarian options, it's one of the few around," said Peregoy as she picked up one last service of sweet potato soup. "We loved this restaurant. There aren't too many healthy restaurants here."

Paul Urciolo, UTC's senior vice president, declined to comment in too much depth about the closing of Wild Onion, but he said it would be missed.

"They had very nice food," said Urciolo. "It just didn't work out."

Adelphi Sky January 31, 2012 at 06:38 PM
You need an attraction. A destination retailer. Think Busboy's, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, dare I say an Apple Store (bare with me). Right now, the mall across the street is stealing the show. safeway was supposed to be the magnet. And as someone said earlier, there would have been retail facing E/W Highway. Bu that never got off the ground which is why UTC looks bare from that side. I guess a good question would be is what destination retail ideas do you have to draw people to UTC? If not Apple, then what? What do people drive miles for? What would make me hope on the metro to get to UTC?
Linda V. January 31, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Nice!
JT February 01, 2012 at 02:33 AM
"If UTC had been built directly above PGP Metro, it would be thriving." I'm not sure I agree with that. MetroShops is as close as you can get to Metro and there are lots of vacant storefronts. J. Marie's didn't last very long.
JT February 01, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Michael -- I agree with most if not all of your points. However your intimation that UTC is a scary high-crime area is not true and does a disservice to the city. Some quick unscientific research shows that the number of UTC crime reports are not out of line with more successful retail areas like Bethesda Row, with "theft from auto" being the most common in such retail areas. Blame bureaucracy, economic conditions, or mismanagement, but don't blame the crime rate.
Danny February 01, 2012 at 12:20 PM
i agree with almost everything michael cron wrote, except for one point: i was told by a city employee that it was UTC that instructed the city to install 24/7 meters for the on-street parking and the "safeway" parking lot. i presume this was to force people into UTC's paid garages (giving UTC a couple bucks of revenue if the person stayed for more than 2 hours, for example to see a movie or to visit a UTC resident), instead of monopolizing the on-street and "safeway" parking. so although the city collects the meters' revenue, the meters were installed (and are enforced 24/7) at UTC's explicit request. if i am incorrect about this, i hope someone in the know can correct it for me. i totally agree that many in the local community decided early on that UTC was not for them. some were upset about the obnoxious parking regime, some were upset about the young people loitering, some just didn't like the restaurant choices, some were upset that the concert series ended and the fountain was turned off, some were just waiting for the long-promised safeway to open. it really is sad.

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