Matt Kocak, the owner of Philly Pizza and Grill, says he’s doing everything he can to be a model small-business owner. He spent $250,000 on repairs and improvements when the restaurant moved to its new location at 1211 Potomac Street last year. Kocak put in tiles on all three floors of the new store to ward off rats. Recently, he had his staff put trashcans out along Potomac Street on weekend nights and asked late-night patrons not to loiter near the restaurant as they eat their slices.
Despite his efforts, Kocak says, he has found himself in the crosshairs of the District of Columbia’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
“Every day inspectors from DCRA come, sometimes three a day,” Kocak said. “But they couldn’t find anything.”
DCRA’s Public Affairs Specialist Shana Kemp said inspectors from the agency have visited the restaurant “no more than six times” recently, but they have found cause for concern. She would not give an exact time frame for the visits.
According to Kemp, Philly P, which has attracted the ire of neighbors and the Advisory Neighborhood Commission since its move to Potomac Street, is violating multiple zoning violations ordinances.
Kemp said that the restaurant uses three floors of the property when it should only be using one, and Philly P frequently exceeds the maximum capacity of seven to 14 people in the restaurant at any one time.
“There are a lot of problems, and he’s at fault,” Kemp said. “If he doesn’t get it straightened out, he may be getting in serious trouble.”
Kemp would not specify what the consequences could be, but said Kocak has been notified of the problems.
According to Kocak, the building was originally zoned as a one-floor business with a maximum capacity of seven, but Philly P got a new zoning permit when it moved in.
Kocak said the new permit allows for use of all three floors and a maximum capacity of fourteen.
The violations DCRA has cited the restaurant for, according to Kocak, are based on the old zoning provisions—not the current ones.
Kocak believes his business is being targeted because of complaints from neighbors and the ANC.
“They’re trying to catch me for any reason to close the business or [make us] close early,” Kocak said. “They’re trying [to do] whatever they can to shut us down, but they cannot find anything.”
Kocak said the ANC has been pushing to make Philly P close earlier, around 11 p.m., or shut down completely. If the restaurant closed early, he said, he would lose approximately 40 percent of his business.
At its October meeting, the ANC promised to hold a meeting with Georgetown’s Councilmember Jack Evans (D—Ward 2), the Metropolitan Police Department and officials from Georgetown University.
ANC Commissioner Ed Solomon said the ANC is waiting to hold the meeting while DCRA investigates. Solomon added that the ANC did not ask the DCRA to investigate.