Bethesda restaurant owners say lines at Georgetown Cupcake dissuade customers
Every day, Susan Baron walks down Clarendon Road in Bethesda and swings onto Bethesda Avenue.
And every day she says she must either wend her way through dozens of patrons dotting the sidewalk in front of Georgetown Cupcake or cross the street to avoid the throng queuing for a $2.75 treat.
"When they're standing in line, basically they're loitering and taking up the whole sidewalk," Baron said. "When I get to that street, I usually cross over ... because people jostle you."
The lines outside Georgetown Cupcake in downtown Bethesda, the second location of a bakery made famous by the TLC television show "DC Cupcakes," are cause for concern for some neighboring business owners and residents who say patrons disrupt outdoor diners, and obstruct storefronts and the sidewalk.
For about nine months, people have stood outside waiting for their desserts, said Golnaz Feiz, general manager of the nearby Assaggi Mozzarella Bar. But with outdoor seating now open, restaurant employees and patrons find the line less than tolerable, she said.
"Our guests, they were very, very annoyed," Feiz said, noting that waitstaff has spilled coffee and wine while crossing the crowded sidewalk to serve diners. "It was a little insane."
The Georgetown Cupcake line stretched toward Woodmont Avenue when the store opened in 2009, Feiz said. This posed no problem because Cava Mezze Grill had not moved into an empty storefront.
Now the line is directed toward Arlington Road, stretching in front of Daddy & Son Camiceria Italiana and Assaggi.
Feiz said she contacted Federal Realty, the property owner, to work out a solution. Georgetown Cupcake now puts up a rope in an attempt to keep customers to one side of the sidewalk, a system that has been in place since early April.
Federal Realty did not return calls for comment this week.
Bakery management says it is doing what it can to alleviate the situation. The line now starts in front of the bakery, breaks at the start of Assaggi's outdoor seating, and begins again at an empty storefront. Bakery employees direct customers.
"We love Bethesda Row and are proud to contribute to a vibrant Bethesda Row community," said Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne, Georgetown Cupcake owners, in a statement emailed to The Gazette. "We work closely with Bethesda Row management to ensure an orderly and fun experience for all of our customers."
Customers can preorder cupcakes online to bypass the line.
Still, Roberto and Francesca Inferrera, owners and operators of Daddy & Son, have found no relief in the new system to break up the line. Customers still stand in front of their storefront, blocking window displays and forcing people to cross the street, they said.
"We get barricaded," Francesca Inferrera said. "It's just frustrating because it creates a traffic jam. It's not walkable anymore. Those people that might be thinking to themselves, I need a new pair of pants or something,' they won't even see me."
She said she contacted the landlord in February to work out an agreement, but is waiting for a permanent solution. The couple does not want Georgetown Cupcake to leave, but rather to find a way that everyone can successfully do business.
Lines tend to expand when the bakery gives out free cupcakes or when the weather is nice, Roberto Inferrera said.
And for some area residents, like Joseph Melrod, the line has become a safety concern.
Melrod, who frequents the Bethesda Row shops and restaurants, said he's worried about what would happen if a fire broke out in a store or if a person in a wheelchair tried to pass.
The line also alters the atmosphere of the street, he said.
"There's a real sense of activity and people really enjoying and using it," Melrod said. "So when the line appeared, it was a little bit striking because it was really out of character for what had been very open and usable space."
But Melrod also said that there's an easy fix to the situation. The success of Georgetown Cupcake gives owners the means to select a location more suited for the crowds.
"They've outgrown their own postage stamp store," he said. "But the upside is they're doing so well. They're just in the wrong place on the wrong sidewalk and there are plenty of other spaces available."