- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Bob Daly learned a lesson yesterday.

“We are not going to open early tomorrow,” said Mr. Daly, owner of the California Tortilla in Chinatown.

It seemed to make sense when California Tortilla opened an hour early at 10 a.m. yesterday: the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament was in town for the first time, and Georgetown and George Washington University games in the neighboring MCI Center had always brought brisk business both before and after games.

But yesterday morning “we were really dead,” Mr. Daly said.

His experience was repeated around the MCI Center, where both fast-food and slow-dining restaurants were disappointed by the lack of morning business before the University of Maryland tipped off at noon to open the tournament.

But they were swamped by hungry patrons in the evening.

“It’s better than a normal day … not much, just a slight increase,” Tom Smith, district manager for Potbelly Sandwich Works in Chinatown, said in the afternoon.

At 4:50 p.m., Potbelly manager Jarrett Wailer was overwhelmed by patrons pouring out after two back-to-back games.

At the fine-dining restaurants, the only business before and during the games was at the bars, but it picked up by the evening.

“These people over at the bar have been drinking all afternoon watching the game, that’s it,” said Sharyn Dewalt, manager of the Austin Grill, pointing to six customers.

At the District Chophouse & Brewery, the bar was full before the games, and some people walked in for drinks after Maryland’s loss to Clemson University, said manager Matthew Chacon. The restaurant’s dining area, though, was unaffected.

“The bar made a difference for us before the game,” Mr. Chacon said.

However, the restaurant had to stop taking reservations for the evening.

Jaleo, California Tortilla, La Tasca Spanish Bar and Restaurant, and Potbelly Sandwich Works reported crowds twice the normal size in the evening break between games.

Restaurants are hoping afternoon business will be brisk over the weekend.

“I think tomorrow it will pick up and gain momentum,” Mr. Smith said. “The weekend might start early on Friday.”

The four-day, 11-team tournament is expected to bring in $18 million into the local economy, increasing revenue for hotels, restaurants and retailers, according to the Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corp.

Several Maryland fans, leaving the MCI Center after their team was bumped out 84-72 by Clemson, said Maryland’s rooters were just not as hungry or rabid as those of other teams.

“All the serious die-hard UNC and Duke fans will come for their games over the weekend,” Steve Coy said. “These people will be here Friday, Saturday [and Sunday].”

Another fan added that the tournament really started when once the top seeds started playing — North Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech had byes yesterday.

“These are preliminary games,” said Jim Gainer, another Maryland fan. “[When the tournament is held] at North Carolina and Duke, these early games are barely attended; the tournament picks up later.”

Restaurants have planned for the weekend.

“We are well-prepared, full-staffed for the weekend,” said Joanna Brady, general manager of Jaleo.

However, Potbelly’s Mr. Smith agreed with Mr. Daly — he, too, had shelved any plans to open early.

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