Italian restaurant to open near AU campus

Italian restaurant La Forchetta will open at 3201 New Mexico Ave. NW in the next two weeks, according to Jorge Abud, AU’s assistant vice president for Facilities Development and Real Estate.

The restaurant will fill an AU-owned space that has been vacant since Balducci’s, a specialty grocery store, closed in 2009, Abud said.

AU had difficulty procuring tenants for the space because there is not a lot of parking or pedestrian traffic at the location, Abud said.

“Our first choice was to replace the gourmet market with something similar, but we spent a year and half trying to find something to fit our model,” Abud said. “Most national chains and retail locations want lots of traffic.”

La Forchetta was originally set to open last fall, according to an “AU in the Neighborhood” newsletter sent out by the University at the beginning of February. But it suffered setbacks when it acquired its liquor license. There is a strong concern in the surrounding community about students drinking at the new restaurant, Abud said.

Lee Minichiello, a commissioner for ANC 3D who has been involved in the liquor license process, said the business still has not finished negotiating the license. The topic will be discussed at the March 7 ANC meeting.

“I’m trying to make this a happy story and work something out,” Minichiello said. “Personally, I’d like to see it go forward and make it a success story, but there is a possibility it will be delayed more.”

The owner participated in the licensing process without AU, but there will be controls in place that will limit drinking.

Abud said there will be no happy hours and patrons will not be able to order alcohol unless they order food as well.

However, Minichiello said happy hours would be allowed.

The owner of La Forchetta and ANC had drafted regulations on alcohol for the restaurant, which were sent to Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, and then sent back with changes to ANC 3D. The restaurant owner could not be reached before publication time.

If the commission wants to challenge the new agreement, they must send it back to the review board or negotiate directly with the owner, Minichiello said.

Minichiello hopes to deal with the owner regarding the agreement, which will take less time than going back to the ABRA.

La Forchetta is under pressure to follow new alcohol rules because of the reputation left by one of the spot’s former tenants, Quigley’s Restaurant, Abud said.

The student hot spot came into frequent conflict with neighbors over noise complaints and alleged underage drinking at the restaurant, The Eagle previously reported. The restaurant closed in February 1997 amid a slump in sales.

La Forchetta will serve pasta and Neopolitan pizza, according to the February “AU in the Neighborhood” newsletter. The new owner of the restaurant lives in the surrounding area, and holds 15 other eating establishments in the D.C. area, Abud said.

Abud said he believes La Forchetta will bring some variety into the neighborhood.

“There are a lot of pizza places … I don’t know if there will actually be customers, since Chef Geoff’s is nearby,” said Jeannette Berman, a sophomore in CAS.

The restaurant’s owners originally wanted to name the place “Al Forno,” The Eagle previously reported. However, the name was changed to “La Forchetta” after another business had rights to that name, according to Minichiello.

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