As anyone in the restaurant business will tell you, a restaurant’s success is primarily tied to its location. In August 2018, I signed a five-year lease for Blend 111 in Vienna, Virginia. This period seemed sufficient to test our concept, evaluate our successes and failures, and decide whether to continue. Although our opening in early 2019 was rocky for our 45-seat restaurant, we found our footing early during the pandemic thanks to a talented new chef, an exceptional front-of-the-house team, and a supportive community.
Those two years were incredible for the restaurant. Aside from accolades such as Northern Virginia Magazine naming Blend 111 one of the top restaurants in the area, being listed in the Washington Post Fall Dining Guide, and winning WTOP’s Best Brunch, we cultivated a fantastic culture. Our employees maintained a balanced work schedule, and we made significant strides in sustainability, investing in composting and minimizing waste. We diverted thousands of pounds of trash from landfills through our compost programs and shared what we learned at the Northern Virginia Community College Sustainability conference.
We supported the non-profit D.C. Central Kitchen and enjoyed highlighting our cooking on Fox 5 and WUSA 9 TV segments. Radio personality Elliot in the Morning sampled our brunch items, and many of our cocktails and store-roasted coffee were featured in local magazines. Our outdoor patio was an oasis during the pandemic and a unique gathering place for family and friends to savor amazing food. Despite challenges from ice, snow, rain, pollen, heat, sun, and bugs, which made the patio demanding for the staff to maintain, the joy we saw on our guests’ faces made it all worthwhile.
Our Latin American-focused menu expanded the culinary boundaries in the area. We blended flavors from Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and other regions, firmly rooted in local ingredients and providers committed to ultra-fresh products. We hosted Paella nights and Carta Blanca surprise tasting dinners. We consistently experimented with new cocktails, which mirrored our Latin American flavors on the menu. Our small organic wine program also drew guests seeking small producers and unique but complimentary flavors.
However, in the summer of 2022, following the Town of Vienna’s decision to terminate our outdoor patio, which constituted 50 percent of our seating, we had to downsize our remarkable staff to accommodate the reduced guest volume. Subsequently, our chef moved to Florida to be nearer to his family. I had transitioned back into the IT Consulting field earlier in the year. We cut back our operational hours, discontinuing our renowned lunch, brunch, and the Pescao pop-up on Mondays. While a dedicated portion of our staff pressed on, it was evident that much of the restaurant’s original charm and zeal were fading. Concurrently, we grappled with inflation, which ate into our already slim margins. Every aspect, from ingredients to maintenance costs, saw substantial increases.
Given these hurdles, committing to another five years for Blend 111 at this location felt unwise. As the lease renewal loomed, I envisioned two potential routes: close the restaurant at the lease’s end or sell it. Shutting down a restaurant is emotionally taxing—turning the key for the last time and saying goodbye to the team. In contrast, selling offers an opportunity to recover the initial investment, ensures the landlord keeps a tenant, provides the staff a chance to continue working, and grants the new owner a prospect to either enhance or recreate the existing brand. And that’s what we opted for.
The five-year odyssey of Blend 111 was a journey of enlightenment packed with lessons and growth. I leave with a heart full of gratitude, treasuring the memories, and thankful for our devoted patrons who supported us throughout.
Michael Biddick is a Master of Bordeaux wine, a certified French Wine Scholar (FSW) and was trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Author of the award-winning book “43 Wine Regions” (2018) Michael has been a contributor to Somm Journal, Food and Travel, and Go World Travel magazines. Michael also founded one of the fastest growing information technology firms in the country in 2009, earned a Master of Science in Information Systems from Johns Hopkins University & undergraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Michael speaks English, Spanish and French. He is also a certified barista & coffee roaster.