Alex McCoy made a splash on the Food Network Star reality TV show two years ago, even as his star was already rising in DC. From Duke’s restaurant to Alfie’s to the soon-to-open Lucky Buns in Adam Morgan, Alex has made his passion for launching new restaurant ideas his career. The restaurant at 845 Upshur Street is the next new idea he’s working on, and he’s really excited about it.
“I love this community, love being part of it,” Alex said. “We’re really excited about the new concept that we’ll be opening — the idea is a neighborhood hangout, a place you can be comfortable in.”
Alex is very comfortable in Petworth. He moved here last year when he and his partners took the lease on the old China American Inn on Upshur, and even named his company after the street: "Upshur Hospitality."
Alex and his partners Hunter Campbell and Marc Dosik (who owns Help-U-Sell next door at 843 Upshur St), leased the old China American Inn almost two years ago with the intent of opening up Alfie’s Thai restaurant there. Once they got inside the building and fleshed out the Alfie’s concept, they realized the space wouldn’t work for their idea.
“We quickly realized the space on Upshur would be too small — we needed a bigger kitchen, as Alfie’s has six chefs,” Alex said. “From the start, we knew and said Alfie’s was going to be a pop-up experience, a test laboratory for myself and for up-and-coming chefs in DC,” Alex said. “We took the space in Park View [the old Mothership restaurant at 3301 Georgia Avenue] with the intent that we would test and play with new concepts, then move Alfie’s someplace else. With the Upshur spot, we really wanted something that would fit the neighborhood.”
The idea that Alex and his partners have come up with is based on an old-world British public house — a pub.
“It’s inspired by London pubs... places to come in, get a bite, a beer and enjoy food made from scratch in a comfortable environment,” Alex said, describing the concept. “It’s about being a comfortable place for breakfast, lunch, opening up your computer and relaxing, hanging out in the back and bringing your kids. It’s a true public house.”
And yes, Alex says there will most definitely be a kids’ menu.
“Of course we’re going to have a kids’ menu,” he said, laughingly mentioning the “stroller mafia” that is constantly patrolling Petworth’s streets. “We understand the desire for a kid-friendly, neighborhood restaurant. The kids’ menu will offer fresh food, homemade pasta. And look, I get it — my team knows that when you see a child at a table, their food comes out first. A little extra ketchup, extra pickels, sure… because when the child is happy, the parents are happy and can enjoy the experience.”
The new pub has a name — but Alex won’t share it yet. “We’re still getting there, but I’ll tease you a bit on it,” he said. “We're inspired by the Borough Market in London, a place where you can taste and get a variety of what the city offers. Likewise, we'll have takeaway options for breakfast and lunch, as well as offering neighbors the ability to pick up different elements of what we make so they can make it at home, or use the marinades, sauces, and so on, in their own way at home. I'm really excited about that."
The menu is still being crafted, but Alex believes there will be only about 10-15 items on it.
"I'm thinking of a chalkboard menu — not necessarily English cuisine fully, but definitely fresh food, homemade pasta and sauces, curries and other options that will change seasonally. You'll see burgers from Lucky Buns and dishes from Alfie's. I want the food program to be fun, exciting and not be fussy food."
They are currently building out the space, and blowing out the rear of the existing restaurant to accommodate their open floor plan concept. (The original space was small, with a small, step-up second floor in the back that made having a full-service restaurant extremely difficult.) There will be a bar inside, along with seating and places to pick up takeaway items. You'll be able to watch them cook.
But I think one of the best parts is going to be the back patio that will span both 845 and 843 Upshur Street.
“It’s a big space,” Alex said. “There’s going to be tables back there, and I’d love to put some games out there and even do a movie night, have music. We’re looking into the option of doing a smaller bar out there as well.”
While Alex hopes the inside space of the restaurant will seat about 20-25, he thinks the outside patio will seat closer to 50.
They’ll close off the alley side where the current chain link fence sits, creating a nice environment for the patio and helping to keep the sound down. They also have committed, in an earlier community agreement, to putting up lights in the alley.
Alex hit on the same themes of local, comfortable and neighborhood multiple times when we spoke. "We want to be a neighborhood place, where the neighborhood comes and goes. A place to feel comfortable no matter if you have your family with you, or are meeting friends after work to grab drinks or even bringing your work in to sit at a table with a coffee."
Speaking of which, the coffee will be sourced from local favorite Qualia. "Man, Joel [the owner of Qualia] has so much passion for his craft!" Alex said. "I love that, and I want to bring that passion into this space. We have an obligation to embrace homegrown, local craft, art, food and more. We want people to know we're a part of the community."
I'm really excited they'll be keeping the Aniekan mural that the artist painted on the front windows during the 2016 Celebrate Petworth festival. It will be hanging on the wall somewhere in the restaurant. It's an absolutely beautiful piece. Look for some great new murals outside in the new patio.
With a 20-year lease at the Upshur Street location, Alex and his partners see themselves in Petworth for the long-term. As for an opening date, that's TBD. They’ve already started pulling permits from the city and they’re working to complete the interior teardown of the back of the building. Past history for other restaurants shows that it always takes longer than thought.
But from what Alex describes for this space, I can’t wait to go there and enjoy it.