Photo of the front sign of the Georgetown Bagel shop Call Your Mother

Georgetown Bagel Shop Faces Backlash from Neighbors

If the hungry crowds devouring bagels outside had their way, the self-proclaimed “Jew-ish” deli Call Your Mother, housed in a bright pink Georgetown rowhouse, would undoubtedly receive official approval to continue serving sandwiches to the masses. However, some neighbors on the affluent street are not pleased with strangers consuming pastrami and candied salmon on their doorsteps, leaving behind a trail of trash.

Zoning Disputes and Legal Battles

Citing decades-old zoning laws and a D.C. Appeals Court ruling, disgruntled residents want the business, operating in a residential area, to stop serving prepared food. “Everybody loves the restaurant, right? And that’s probably one of the detriments,” said Paul Maysak, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, at a contentious Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing that will help determine Call Your Mother’s fate. “They outsource the dining room to the sidewalk for the large part. So, I’d love to see it work. I wouldn’t want it across the street from me.”

Call Your Mother, an instant hit at area farmers’ markets where their 400 bagels usually sold out in an hour, opened its first store in Park View in 2018. Since then, it has rapidly expanded across the region to 10 stores, half of which opened in the last four years, said Andrew Dana, the co-owner of the restaurant. While locals consider it a staple and tourists seek out the shop for food and Instagram-worthy photos, the Georgetown location at 35th and O Streets NW, which opened in 2020, has been a source of consternation.

Neighbors Take Legal Action

Sixteen residents, including a law professor, a tax lawyer, and a dentist, took their complaints to court over the shop’s operation. More recently, the takeout shop with limited indoor seating deputized an employee to patrol the stoops, asking customers to move.

The hearing on Wednesday aimed to address the latest dispute in the lengthy legal and zoning board battle. To continue selling sandwiches in the 1,188-square-foot rowhouse, the shop needs the zoning board’s approval for its application.

Divided Opinions from Residents

“Having to shoo people off our stoop every single time going in and out was more than annoying,” said Caroline Emad, who owns the house next to Call Your Mother with her husband. While the Emads do not live there full-time, they worry about their tenants. “It’s fantastic to have them next to us. It’s a thriving business. But I think they overgrew, and the place is too small for them.”

The shop has the support of some residents and an important ally: the city. Crystal Myers of the D.C. Office of Planning recommended the zoning board approve Call Your Mother’s application for an exception, citing the building’s long history of operating as a store. If the board disagrees, Dana said, the store could close, risking the jobs of the 20 to 25 people employed at the Georgetown location.

Heated Debates and Opposing Views

The throngs of satisfied customers have done little to change some residents’ minds. Melinda Roth, who lives nearby and was among the 16 people who took an earlier dispute over Call Your Mother to court, wrote in a PowerPoint presentation to the zoning board that the matter was “Not a Popularity Contest” and asked if it would be possible for a less “objectionable” tenant to move in to the corner location, floating the possibility of “some quiet sleepy business that isn’t super successful.”

The building that Call Your Mother is renting has a history of business use dating back to pre-Civil War times, according to Topher Matthews, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area. It began as a grocery store, which was replaced by a shop selling antiques and later, flowers. Even as zoning laws changed, the rotating shops were able to apply for exceptions and keep their doors open.

At least one competitor, Coffee Republic, just 80 feet from the bagel shop, says Call Your Mother isn’t playing by the rules. Sean Flynn, a co-owner of Coffee Republic, wrote to the zoning board that since the deli’s opening, his shop has seen a decline in customers and a significant revenue loss. At the same time, Flynn wrote, Call Your Mother customers have used Coffee Republic’s tables and restrooms without buying anything.

Ongoing Debate and Community Divide

Roth’s PowerPoint depicted a chaotic scene, including photos of customers sitting on the sidewalk and stooping while eating bagels, overflowing public trash and recycling bins, litter, and photos of what she described as “humongous rats.” She complained of customers who drove to the store and took “rare residential parking spaces,” and of noisy delivery trucks filling already clogged roadways.

Others, however, say the restaurant is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, including Chris Itteilag, who bought a home across the street from Call Your Mother. Itteilag, a residential real estate agent, said those opposed to the restaurant are offering a “gross misrepresentation” of what it’s like to live on the block.

Josh Randle, who bought his O Street home just over a year ago, shared that going to Call Your Mother has become his daughter’s favorite part of the day. “From 8 to 2, as far as I’m concerned, they’re our neighbors,” Randle said.

As the debates continue, the fate of the beloved bagel shop remains uncertain, leaving the community divided and the future of Call Your Mother’s Georgetown location hanging in the balance.

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