Hank's Loses CommonWealth Cousin

Lesbian restaurateur sells Columbia Heights venue, expands in Dupont

For about two years, Jamie Leeds‘s CommonWealth ”gastropub” offered up roasts, pints and Scotch eggs in a Columbia Heights setting fit for a Brit. But with the close of February came the close of CommonWealth, returning the culinary empire of the entrepreneurial epicurean lesbian to two venues: the original Hank’s Oyster Bar at 17th and Q Streets NW, and its successor, Hank’s Oyster Bar in Old Town, Alexandria.

”It’s for a number of reasons,” Leeds said last week as she awaited the pig she was to transform into porcine treats for the ”Cochon 555” competition. ”Primarily, we received an offer that was too good to pass up. It was a business decision. And I’ve been wanting to focus on Hank’s. … I am going to [miss CommonWealth] a little bit. It’s been bittersweet. But I’m able to move on pretty quickly.”

The offer to buy CommonWealth – or at least ”everything but the name,” as Leeds puts it – came from her landlord Terry Cullen, and leaves Leeds free to focus on the expansion currently underway at her D.C. Hank’s, named for her father and opened in 2005.

”We’ve started demolition,” Leeds says of the expansion. ”We’re just getting ready for final building permits. All the other stuff has been taken care of. We should have the final permit by the end of next week (March 18).”

But between selling one business, managing two more, and serving as the president of the national organization Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, the renovation is bound to interrupt Leeds’s life more than she might like.

”It’s been quite a struggle,” she says, also recalling the opposition she faced from a tiny minority of residents when initially opening. ”I was going to a lot of [Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration] hearings and mediations, … but we were able to come through. It’s definitely easier because I’m already in business. The stresses are different, but still there. It’s a pretty big project.”

Included in the big project are a private second-floor dining room and doubling of the popular outdoor patio space. The latter, she guesses, will be ready in late May or early June. In the meantime, she’s offering up her fourth annual ”Oyster Fest” at both Hank’s locations Saturday afternoon, April 16.

Hank’s Oyster Bars are at 1624 Q St. NW, 202-462-4265, and 1026 King St., Alexandria, 703-739-4265, and online at hanksdc.com.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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