an old joke about the weather: If you
don’t like the restaurant choices, wait
Some independent establishments
in the Bethesda area have withstood
the taste of time, continuing to fill
tables and prosper. ;ey may never
earn Michelin stars, but they have
earned the loyalty of even the most
fickle foodies. We wondered what
their secrets are, and how they’ve
managed to weather food trends,
economic downturns and other
vicissitudes of restaurant life.
Here, we highlight six of the survivors. ;e list is much longer, of
course, but this group shares many
essential qualities that contribute to
success. All rely on loyalty, repeat
customers and successive generations; all are in the business because
they love it—it isn’t a hobby.
It’s unlikely that the current food-scape will stay intact for very long,
especially with ever-increasing rents.
But four of these six restaurants don’t
have to worry about rent—they own
their buildings. “;e failure of 90
percent of the restaurants is due to
renewing the lease, or a lease that is
too expensive compared with your
receipts,” says Alain Roussel, the
owner of La Ferme in Chevy Chase.
“Lots of people have big expecta-
tions, and if the numbers don’t click
and you’re working only for the land-
lord, that’s a bad deal.”
;e logo at La Ferme is a rooster,
a national symbol of France. Chosen,
Roussel says, because the rooster “is
proud, but not arrogant.” ;is attitude
is shared by the other long-standing
restaurants: Never take your custom-
ers for granted or allow yourself to
believe that you’re too good for them.
“Don’t spit in the soup,” Roussel says
with a laugh, using a French expression meaning don’t be disdainful of
what you have.
Yen Lee first encountered his future boss, Donny Vechery, in a high school fistfight—and they don’t remember what they were fighting about. Lee doesn’t recommend that approach, but after a 25-year career
at the Bethesda Crab House—rising from busboy to general
manager—he concedes that, yeah, it worked for him.
;e crustacean corner at the west end of Bethesda Avenue
was opened in 1961 by Henry Vechery, Donny’s dad, and
immediately benefited from being the first licensed alcohol
retailer in Montgomery County. Takeout beer accounted for
BETHESDA CRAB HOUSE
The Bethesda Crab House, which opened
in 1961, is a tourist destination in the
summer. Yen Lee, now the general manager,
started as a busboy 25 years ago.