While dining at The Dancing Crab in July 2012, Carlos Horcasitas and May-May Au Huie learned from their waitress that one of their favorite Tenleytown restaurants was up for sale and the 40-year-old institution would be closing its doors. Patrons for over 25 years, Carlos and May-May decided to buy the restaurant on the spot. Initial inquiries were rebuffed by the owner, as a pending deal was close to completion, but when Carlos offered to pay cash he soon found himself the owner of a crab shack.
Carlos and May-May recounted the tale of how they became restaurateurs at the August 29 ANC-3E meeting, where they were seeking support for a zoning variance for an enclosed outdoor space. Experienced business owners, neither had owned a restaurant before, and when they made their offer they had not met the owner nor even seen the kitchen. Only after purchasing The Dancing Crab did they realize what they had gotten themselves into.
The Dancing Crab turned out to be in great disrepair, badly in need of top to bottom cleaning and in trouble with DC’s Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) given the restaurant’s history of serving underage patrons. Carlos and May-May set out to change the culture of the restaurant, while maintaining its character as a crab restaurant, hoping to attract neighbors many of whom had not dined there for years.
They completed substantial renovations to the property, updated the menu and brought in an Italian chef, while retaining crabs as the star of the show, and secured a transfer of the liquor license after promising to put an end to underage drinking and committing to being on-site full time. They changed the restaurant hours, closing at 10 p.m. consistent with their commitment to a being a neighborhood restaurant instead of an after hours hot spot. At the same time, they reached out to neighbors and members of the ANC to get a feel for what the neighborhood wanted and the vision for its future.
As part of the renovations, Carlos and May-May enclosed the old wooden deck not realizing that their permit only covered an unenclosed space. They intended for the new space to offer year-round seating and better flow for patrons and servers. Based upon a mistaken understanding of their permit, the work proceeded, and now, recognizing their error, the owners are seeking a retroactive permit. They are hopeful that ANC-3E will support the permit.
In the coming months, further renovations will take place, including providing wheelchair access for patrons at the rear entrance and making the restrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although the current layout of the building is grandfathered, Carlos and May-May are committed to making The Dancing Crab accessible to all.
Their passion for the restaurant and the community are clearly evident and the changes seem to be working. For more on The Dancing Crab, check out my restaurant review.