Restaurateur to take Carolina regional
After coming back from Silver Spring loss, London to open new locations in Prince George’s, Washington
In 2003, the restaurateur’s Carolina Kitchen in Silver Spring burned down. But his phoenix rose from the ashes by 2005 when he debuted a new restaurant in Prince George’s County at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre. It became so popular that, even in heavy rain, London would sometimes arrive to find a line of patrons outside under umbrellas waiting for it to open.
Now, rather than rebound from misfortune, London is trying to build on his success.
The restaurant is going upscale in Hyattsville as The Carolina Kitchen Bar and Grill. When London opens this second site this spring, diners will be able to enjoy the restaurant’s signature ‘‘soul food” and American cuisine in a new atmosphere that includes a full-service bar with a fireside lounge, waterfalls and two rooms for private events.
At 7,000 square feet, the new restaurant is more than double the size of the Largo location and can seat up to 375 people, London said. By next year, he plans to open two similar establishments in Washington, D.C.: a 9,000-square-foot restaurant in Chinatown, and an 11,000-square-foot version in the U Street corridor.
The Woodmore man also has his sights on the county’s upcoming metropolis along the Potomac River. ‘‘We’re very interested in going into National Harbor,” he said.
The new model is like the Largo restaurant — but on steroids, London said. ‘‘The concept is incredible home-style cooking done with an upscale flair.”
London’s accomplishments were recognized last week by the Small Business Initiative, a branch of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp., which presented him with the Outstanding Retail Award at its third annual celebration in Upper Marlboro.
London has been working with SBI for several years, and has used the program to identify other areas where he could expand his retail presence, said director Charlotte Ducksworth. ‘‘He really has a good concept that he’s been able to multiply,” she said.
When it comes to service, London is one of the best in the county, and he also provides jobs for people of all ages, including teenagers, Ducksworth said.
The business also caters; it recently catered Black History Month luncheons at the Rockville and Odenton offices of IQ Solutions.
‘‘Everybody just raved about the food,” said Denise Crute, a director at the company. ‘‘The biggest thing is that there was nothing left.”
Crute visited the restaurant when referred there by her staff, she said. ‘‘It’s a real nice restaurant, nice environment, nice atmosphere,” she said.
Carolina Kitchen’s flavor comes from London’s late grandmother ‘‘Ma Pearl.” His family moved to this area from North Carolina, and London is a Suitland High School graduate.
More than 170 entrepreneurs have expressed interest in buying a Carolina Kitchen franchise, London said, but he is not going that route, as he’s concerned with maintaining the quality of the food and the concept consistency.
Instead, London is considering developing corporate partnerships, in a manner similar to franchising, where he would share the Carolina Kitchen opportunity with about five people in the near future, he said.
When talking about challenges in his career, London mentions the 2003 fire, but ‘‘I think the real challenge is being able to keep up with the growth of the company,” he said.
London had some slip-ups when he expanded from his primarily carryout eatery in Silver Spring to the larger Largo restaurant that seats about 150. He was initially unprepared to handle the flood of customers who would line up as far away as the AMC Magic Johnson movie theater waiting to get in, he said.
‘‘I couldn’t believe how many people were coming,” London said, but acknowledged, ‘‘this is a good problem to have.” The restaurant opened only for dinner for a while until it graduated to longer hours.
Thursday through Sunday still draw the heaviest crowds. ‘‘It’s like we’re giving away free money. It’s packed,” he said.