For Ashish Alfred, the decision to close George’s Chophouse in Bethesda wasn’t easy.
Alfred emailed vendors and customers this week to let them know that he had decided to shutter the restaurant on Cordell Avenue and The Loft, the private event space on the second floor.
In 2012, Alfred began his career as a restaurant owner by opening 4935 Bar & Kitchen in the space. In 2018, he changed the concept to a steakhouse and the name to George’s, after his late brother.
“It’s been a tough road here,” Alfred said Wednesday standing in front of restaurant. “Everyone knows my story. The stress on top of what was my drug problem really almost drove me down.”
When he opened the restaurant, Alfred was addicted to heroin and other opioids.
In April 2014, he went to 4935 Kitchen Bar after hours to steal $4,000 from the safe to pay for heroin. He tripped on entering, smashed his face on the ground and lost multiple teeth.
Shortly after, at the insistence of his mother, Veena, Alfred entered rehab and says he has been sober ever since.
Over time, he learned how to run a community restaurant. “I’m grateful for the opportunity I was given. Bethesda’s been really patient with me while I learned here.”
Business had picked up last year and this year was off to a strong start, but then the pandemic hit. “I was like a lot of restaurateurs who really wished this was going to be something that came and was gone in a couple of weeks, and then we realized the seriousness of it and how long it might actually take,” Alfred said.
The backbreaker was the loss of private events in The Loft. “When we lost that business, there was no way we could stay open,” Alfred said. “We survived off of those big evenings that we had and the deposits that came in from them.”
Alfred said he is committed to returning all of the $75,000 in deposits the restaurant has for future events. “I’m paying back every penny, but it’s going to take some time,” he said.
“It hurts me not just from the business and financial aspect of closing a restaurant — yeah, that’s painful — but it almost feels like you’re leaving your family behind a little bit because we really did have a family here with our staff and customers,” Alfred said.
Alfred said he hopes he can give 40% to 50% of his 25 full- and part-time employees jobs in his other two restaurants — Duck Duck Goose in Bethesda and Baltimore. He said those two restaurants are faring better during the economic downturn because the spaces are much smaller than George’s.