Metro Weekly

Annie’s met the pandemic head-on with an extensive Streatery and takeout options

The "America's Classics" restaurant has found new ways to serve the community and help keep 17th Street vibrant

Annie's paramount steak house
Annie’s Paramount Steak House

In October, without public notice or fanfare, a group of Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse employees staged an impromptu, mini-version of the 17th Street High Heel Race on the very day the beloved annual event would have taken place.

“I was at the front of the street telling cars, ‘Just hold on a second,'” says general manager Georgia Katinas, laughing at the memory. “We decided to keep it quiet and do a High Heel Race with our employees only, as a symbolic [gesture] of keeping the spirit of the event alive and of how much we miss 17th Street.”

While 17th Street between Dupont and Logan Circles is not the bustling strip it had been prior to the pandemic, Annie’s has helped to keep the neighborhood vibrant and energetic. It’s done this by introducing outdoor dining for the very first time, creating an extensive Streatery out front that has grown since last summer to cover most of the available sidewalk space and parking spots in the restaurant’s half-block.

“There were some summer days where there was music playing and people outside, and I’m like, ‘Are we in D.C.? Where are we?,'” says Katinas. “It’s awesome! I just see it breathing life into 17th Street. I’ve also heard countless times [from diners], ‘Oh, we never knew Annie’s was here. And now it’s our favorite restaurant.'”

Who in D.C. didn’t know about the 73-year-old institution, deemed an “America’s Classic” restaurant by the James Beard Foundation? Without missing a beat, Katinas answers with a chuckle: “Young straight couples.”

Annie’s Paramount Steak House

She continues: “We’re getting a new generation of loyal Annie’s fans. We’re getting young families. There’s definitely new life. Yet there’s space for all and space for our core customers, who also have enjoyed eating outside. And it’s just wonderful. It’s really good to see.”

Unlike her counterparts, the 32-year-old Katinas has known Annie’s her entire life, as the granddaughter of the restaurant’s founder, great-niece of its late, beloved namesake, and daughter of its longtime owner, Paul Katinas.

“I have been in and out of the restaurant since I was 15,” she says. “I’ve done all the positions. I’ve waited, bartended, hosted. I’ve done a few shifts on the line as a cook as well.” Katinas worked at jobs in the nonprofit sector and in the events industry for several years before returning to the fold full-time in September of 2019.

“Every bone in my body was saying I have to be there for my dad and for our family business and for our employees,” she says. The well-timed decision seems prescient in hindsight given that six months later the pandemic threatened Annie’s like never before.

“Certainly for my dad, the idea of closing our doors was never an option,” Katinas says. “We think of ourselves as a very open, welcoming place. The idea of not allowing people to dine inside was really upsetting.

“Right away, we pivoted to takeout,” she continues. “We did takeout business like we’ve never seen before. We came up with new systems for how to organize all of that [and] got on three different apps, which we had never done before COVID.”

Annie’s Paramount Steak House: Ribeye

Once summer was in full swing last year, Paul and his brother built what Georgia calls “a really beautiful, exciting outdoor space that I think makes 17th Street a happier place to be.” The results were immediate. “As soon as we built it…we were doing incredible business [and] able to employ all of our people and really have some fun with it.

Annie’s has kept over 40 people employed, including many who have worked at the restaurant for decades. “It’s been inspiring for me, and I think I can speak for my dad as well, just to see how many of our employees care deeply about Annie’s. They really are a part of the family.”

Annie’s is ingrained in the LGBTQ community in ways that most restaurants are not. While their appeal is citywide, their heart belongs to the LGBTQ patrons, who have remained fervently loyal to the restaurant. “We’ve been there for a lot of people, and a lot of people have been there for us,” says Katinas. “We’re not going to forget that anytime soon.”

In addition to the dedicated staff and the loyalty of patrons, Katinas also cites strong support from a host of others in the community, everyone from owners of neighboring businesses to officials at both the neighborhood ANC level and in city government. “We’re so lucky that we have so many people that love Annie’s, and we feel really uniquely positioned. There are a lot of restaurants that are in a lot more precarious of a state than we are.”

Of course, even on its best days over the past year, Annie’s sales numbers are still significantly lower than those from pre-pandemic times, before mandates required drastically limited capacity and reduced hours of operation, including closing early every night and putting a halt to Annie’s famous round-the-clock weekend service. Sales of traditional bestsellers, even its namesake cuts of beef, have also declined.

“We’re not selling as many steaks as we once were,” Katinas says. “I think some of that is people’s budgets have changed, and steaks are often celebratory.” Better sellers during the pandemic have been the restaurant’s burgers and sandwiches ($13.95 to $15.95), which also generally travel better for takeout than steaks, including Annie’s show-stopping signature Bull in the Pan ($17.25 to $26.25), which, as Katinas puts it, “certainly doesn’t sizzle in the takeout container.”

Annie’s Paramount Steak House

Meanwhile, Annie’s has stopped serving another popular cut of beef: Prime Rib. “It’s something that’s really expensive, and it can be wasteful. And right now, it just makes no sense for us to have it,” Katinas says, noting that rib fans and others can opt instead for the Pot Roast ($19.95), a new addition to the regular menu formerly offered only as a special.

The restaurant has also made changes in how they prepare certain staples to optimize them for takeout — the Fried Buffalo Mozzarella starter ($9.25) has been altered “to keep it from getting soggy in to-go containers.” The icing on Annie’s cake is also vastly improved. “Desserts were something that for a long time we were outsourcing,” Katinas says, but because both she and her dad have developed a love of baking, they’ve added “some really awesome homemade desserts that people are loving.” These include Key Lime Pie ($7.95), Pecan Pie ($8.95), and Carrot Cake ($9.25). “The desserts have just been [selling like] bananas.”

Katinas points out that “Saturday brunch culture is way bigger than Sunday brunch culture now” and happy hour tends to start earlier on certain days. “We get a nice big crowd around 3 o’clock on nice days,” she says.

“I see a big movement to keep the [outdoor] spaces [post-pandemic],” Katinas says. “I think a lot of our customers have really loved eating outside. And I don’t think that’s going to go away after all this is over.” That said, she expects it will become a seasonal offering, not a year-round one. “I think by next winter we’ll all be like, ‘No, not again. Thank you, though.'”

Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse is located at 1609 17th St. NW, and currently open Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 8 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call 202-232-0395 or visit www.anniesparamountdc.com.

Follow them on Instagram at @AnniesParamountDC.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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