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U St. neighbors fighting new ABC license

(Published July 2, 2001)

By STEPHEN CHAPMAN

Special to The Common Denominator

A new U Street establishment faces stiff opposition from neighborhood protesters who fear an influx of traffic and noise if the business succeeds in obtaining a liquor license.

"Cada Vez," billed as the District’s "first High-Tech Restaurant and Computer Conference Center," has applied to the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for a restaurant liquor license but has met a wall of opposition from a group of neighborhood residents.

The protesters, part of the "Residential Action Coalition," say there are already too many bars and restaurants in the area.

"Our number one concern is the over-saturation of nightclubs in the area," said Phyllis Klein, who lives on the block where Cada Vez is located.

She also said the opposition Cada Vez faces is not unique.

"Every [ABC] applicant is subject to the same protest process," she said.

However, Cada Vez is not a run-of-the-mill restaurant or nightclub.

The owners, Ernest and Kathy Simo, named their business "Cada Vez" – which is Portuguese for "each time" – because they believe patrons will have a different experience each time they pass through the doors.

The facility is intended to act as a conference center, a computer training facility, a gourmet restaurant, a community center and a performance space. The restaurant was scheduled to open in June, but the building is now used only for private meetings and training sessions while the liquor license application remains in limbo.

Cada Vez and its neighbors are continuing to negotiate a list of resident demands, ranging from concerns over garbage collection to worries over an increase in crowds, traffic, parking problems and noise.

Kathy Simo said Cada Vez responded to a modified version of neighborhood demands with a proposed "voluntary agreement" on June 27. If the two sides can reach agreement, the ABC Board will hold a public hearing and could grant a license in 10-14 days.

If the business owners and residents continue to disagree, a simple majority of neighbors within a 600-foot radius of Cada Vez can effectively block issuance of the new liquor license.

Before housing Cada Vez, the historic building at 1438 U St. NW saw several incarnations, from a post office to a business college to a church to, most recently, a Shriners’ Temple. Kathy Simo, who runs a hotel in her native Scotland, and her Cameroon-born husband began renovations to the site in May 2000.

They said they set out to create a modern and intelligent space designed for the information age. Each table in the restaurant has a high-speed T1 Internet connection and multiple electrical outlets. The room also contains a large screen projection system, an overhead robotic video camera and a computerized lighting system.

Plans are for the downstairs restaurant, with a seating capacity of 160-200 people, to be used for meetings during the day and to open to the public after 5:30 p.m. Upstairs are three training rooms of varying size.

Giving back to the community is high on the owners’ list of priorities. Nonprofits are charged half the established price, and Cada Vez already has hosted community-access programs to help bridge the "digital divide."

Klein said she supports these aspects of the business but is "concerned over the appropriateness" of the location. She also pointed to other establishments in the area that operate as nightclubs while holding only a restaurant license.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator