by Marlene Berlin and Sharon Bauer
According to Forest Hills Connection’s Van Ness retail survey last year, neighbors want more and better restaurants at Van Ness. To accomplish this, we need to tell our local restaurants how they can serve us.
This survey grew out of a conversation between Marlene Berlin, ANC Commissioner and Van Ness Vision Committee chair Mary Beth Ray, and Uzi Turker, the owner of Acacia Bistro and Wine Bar. Turker considering ways to increase business and make his restaurant more of a neighborhood hangout; a home away from home. I offered a survey through the Connection, which collected responses from mid-July through mid-September. Here are the results.
Who filled out the survey
We had 135 respondents in a fairly evenly-distributed age range. Three-quarters of them have no children in their households. About 90 percent of the respondents live nearby, including the 19 percent who also work in or near Van Ness. Only two percent of the survey takers are workers who commute from outside the area – too few to come to any conclusions about what workers want. In fact, the overall sample is too small to make any sweeping conclusions. Regardless, we found the results to be an interesting snapshot of neighborhood life.
How do respondents get to Van Ness and why do they come?
People could choose from as many modes of transportation as was applicable. We expected that most people would use some combination of transit, private vehicle, and traveling on foot. But the preferred mode among the survey respondents was walking.
Why do people come to Van Ness? Nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, come just to eat. Only 21 percent listed an activity, including shopping or commuting, that brings them to the area.
A question we did not ask but that is important to consider: If there were more going on at Van Ness, would that provide more incentive for people to come to eat here?
How often we do lunch (and dinner) at Van Ness
Since we did not capture many workers in the survey there were higher frequencies of eating out for dinner than for lunch.
And now, the Acacia results
More than half of the respondents either have never been to Acacia or have not gone back after a few tries. What do customers want that would get them to frequent Acacia, and more often? Here are the top suggestions:
How did respondents rate Acacia on food, service, atmosphere, menu choices and cost? The responses show that Acacia’s greatest asset is its outdoor café area. That gets the highest marks, followed by the quality of its food. Over the summer, Acacia capitalized on both, and started inviting customers to a special grill night on Tuesdays. This was a success in bringing out more customers on what’s usually a slow weekday evening.
The lowest marks were reserved for the cost of the food.
In general, the ratings and the comments were positive:
“I enjoy Acacia’s lunch menu during the week on occasion. Especially the veggie paninis and the salads (caprese is my favorite!). My workplace also has their annual party there. I work nearby and live near the Tenleytown metro – about 20 minute walk to Acacia.”
Some comments reflect a difficult balance Acacia has to strike if it’s going to appeal to a wide range of customers.
In the kids’ corner:
“Acacia is pricey for a neighborhood restaurant. If you want to attract families with kids, a few very simple kid-type dishes at kid-type prices would probably help.”
“Love the food! Service can be spotty. I was happy to see that you have children’s options on the menu. While I don’t want it to turn completely family oriented – it is a little pricey. Looked like a good kids menu and we will bring them back to try it. We really love having Acacia in the neighborhood and love the ambiance.”
In the singles club:
“Better cocktails, fun, singles atmosphere, less family oriented, healthy ceviche appetizers calamari, more Greek-Turkish food”
A mix of the two – Couples looking for a convenient date night venue and a place to take the kids on occasion:
“I almost clicked more family oriented, but in reality I want a nice date night place I can go with my wife, but suggest maybe an early kid friendly menu/atmosphere say 4-6:30 also. I would take my family at that time if it was kid friendly (atmosphere and price) and still view the 7-9 time-frame as a date night option.”
Those seeking a lower price point:
“The dinner options are also out of the price range that I would normally pay. I rarely get pasta or small plates when I eat out because I feel like the food is overpriced.”
“We live very nearby and would probably come more often if it were a little less pricey. But we do think the food is interesting and delicious.”
Those who think it’s fine as is:
“I don’t agree that we need another cheap eats place like Chipotle or Pot Belly’s. There are enough of those options nearby. We need the good, fresh ingredients that Acacia offers with a great selection of wine.”
And on creating a neighborhood hangout:
“I’d like it to be a restaurant I’m always happy to go to–which is partly how I would define a neighborhood restaurant. What that implies is reliability. Regardless of type of cuisine, it means making a handful of dishes of consistently high quality at a reasonable price point so that customers come to rely on it.”
Acacia Bistro appears to have the basic ingredients for a successful restaurant. What it needs to do now is some fine-tuning of its variety of offerings, prices (especially for the kids’ menu) and service, which commenters noted has been uneven.