The Wash

An iconic late-night restaurant in Georgetown faces pressure to close early amid mounting neighborhood mischief and crime

George’s King of Falafel and Cheesesteak is the only late-night restaurant in Georgetown, but their hours of operation may soon be forced to change after nearby residents expressed concerns about the restaurant’s nightly crowds.

Even after midnight, families can be found at George’s King of Falafel and Cheesecake on 28th St NW sharing a meal. Women wearing hijabs feed smiling children Nutella crepes and shawarma while plenty of eager guests line-up outside hoping to get a seat. The often crowded family-owned restaurant offers a sense of community to its regular guests. However, the residents who live nearby are tired of the noisy nightly gatherings outside the restaurant and are now looking to close the place down early.

Georgetown resident Paris Keena said she’s terrified by the noise outside her home that sits kitty-corner from George’s. 

George’s is the only late-night restaurant in Georgetown and is open until 4 a.m. on the weekends and 3 a.m. during the week. Keena said the noisy guests, endless traffic and litter should not be allowed to disrupt her life. 

People ordering at restaurant
After midnight, customers order at George’s King of Falafel and Cheesesteak. (Mike Pesoli/The Wash)

“I’m afraid to leave my home at night, and I don’t get much sleep,” Keena said. “I started calling the police non-emergency number on a regular basis.”  

Keena is one of several residents who claim that George’s late-night customers are often drunk, relentlessly raucous and have littered their block with trash. However, George’s does not have a liquor license, so any customers who come to the restaurant inebriated have done so on their own accord. 

“I have a right to a peaceful environment on my block, but because it’s mixed-use, and George’s is open all night, I do not,” Keena said. 

In October, a shoot-out occurred outside George’s between two armed robbers and an undercover police officer. The incident rattled residents and did not help George’s already wavering reputation, even though the criminals held no association with the restaurant.

John Wiebenson, the operations manager for the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID), which works as a liaison between businesses and local communities, said the BID is considering hiring an overtime police officer to patrol the area in light of the recent shooting, despite George’s having hired private security.

“I think there’s a lot of benefit to hiring an overtime police officer versus private security because the rules and the roles a police officer can play versus private security are very different,” Wiebenson said.

Earlier this month, a group of locally elected representatives in Georgetown, otherwise known as the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), held a meeting to address the resident’s concerns. The ANC proposed a resolution to the District Department of Consumer Affairs asking that they enforce reduced hours of operation at George’s until “quality of life” was restored to the residents of 28th Street NW.

The resolution came as a surprise to leadership at George’s, who felt that they had done everything to placate their neighbor’s concerns: They hired private security, placed no-littering signs outside the restaurant and asked their staff to circle the block at the end of their shifts to ensure neighborhood cleanliness. George’s even allowed their outdoor streatry to be taken away at the ANC’s request to help alleviate traffic congestion and gathering crowds.

Healthier Albarazi, the marketing manager for George’s, said they tried to meet the resident’s demands with solutions.

“We don’t understand the persistent noise complaints,” Albarazi said. “If  our security guard heard people being loud around the block, he would go figure out what that was and address it.”

Noise and littering complaints from residents started rolling in around June. That’s when George’s placed signs throughout the neighborhood reminding guests to remain quiet and throw away their trash.

traffic many cars
Steady traffic outside George’s King of Falafel and Cheesesteak. (Mike Pesoli/The Wash)

Two years ago, George’s fought the city to have their own trash receptacles stationed outside the restaurant to help their guests keep the neighborhood clean. But just last week, the Department of Health arrived and told them that the receptacles were no longer allowed.

“We’ve got to be realistic here and assume it’s not a coincidence that the Department  of  Health showed up last week and asked us to remove them,” Albarazi said. 

Albarazi said the shooting in October frightened everyone, but she does not see how anyone could equate George’s business hours with luring crime to the neighborhood.

“We really understood the need at that moment to address this and put our customers and our neighbors at ease and hire security,” Albarazi said. “So there’s something that’s really important to us and that we’ve happily done.”

But Albarazi is concerned that the ANC’s resolution could result in a change of operational hours at George’s and dramatically affect the many communities which they serve.

lamb shawarma wrap
The lamb shawarma wrap at George’s King of Falafel and Cheesesteak. (Mike Pesoli/The Wrap)

According to Albarazi, George’s late-night hours cater to various groups of DC residents, such as front-line workers, who often look for a warm meal at the end of their evening shifts. The restaurant is also entirely halal, which is especially helpful during Ramadan when Muslim people are fasting throughout the day. 

“In the Arab community, we’re really known as the meeting place,” Albarazi said. “And that’s how we see ourselves in the community. We bring people together.”

If George’s hours of operation are forced to change, Albarazi fears it will be the end of a 40-year halal tradition. 

“We care about our neighbors, don’t get me wrong. We absolutely want things to be livable for them in their neighborhood, but we are serving a community that truly needs us,” Albarazi said.

Despite doing everything to meet the demands of residents and the ANC, Albarazi said she feels their efforts have not been recognized.

“Sometimes it feels like no matter what we do, this will never go away. And then I start thinking, what is this really about?” Albarazi said.

George’s King of Falafel and Cheesesteak has since retained a lawyer in an attempt to arrive at a resolution of their own.

“At least we’ll have a seat at the table now,” Albarazi said. “Otherwise, I don’t think we would have ever gotten that.”

Mike Pesoli

Mike Pesoli is a graduate journalism student at American University. He is a broadcast journalist and digital storyteller. Mike is passionate about community reporting and arts and entertainment journalism. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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