PassionFish on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda closing on Sunday

UPDATED: PassionFish closing in Bethesda on Sunday

Closure due to economic difficulties during COVID-19 pandemic, business partner says

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This story was updated at 6:22 p.m. on Nov. 13, 2020, to add additional comments from David Wizenberg

The seafood restaurant PassionFish is closing on Sunday after five years in Bethesda, the restaurant announced on Friday.

PassionFish said in a press release on Friday that the restaurant at 7187 Woodmont Ave. will close after dinner service on Sunday. The closure is due to “many issues beyond our control” that have affected the restaurant’s operations, the press release stated.

David Wizenberg, one of the restaurant’s business partners, told Bethesda Beat in an interview Friday afternoon that the closure was due to complications resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. PassionFish, he said, hadn’t been able to pay its full rent recently.

“They tried to be accommodating at first, of course,” he said. “They’re business people, too. But they were not able to help us any more….”

BlackRock could not be reached for comment Friday.

Wizenberg said this coincided with Montgomery County’s new executive order, approved by the County Council on Tuesday, which caps the maximum indoor seating capacity for restaurants and other businesses at 25%. Since mid-June, restaurants in the county had been able to serve at 50% indoor capacity.

At 25%, “we wound up with a 40-seat restaurant, and we just can’t make it work,” he said.

Wizenberg said surviving at 50% capacity was still difficult, but they were able to stay in business in the short-term with the help of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“That probably was not sustainable for the long term, but we were trying to hold on with that based on the potential for some new PPP money, and I applied for some grants and so on. But nothing had moved. It was just sort of bad news after another,” he said.

Wizenberg said in the press release that PassionFish’s other location in Reston, Va., will remain open.

“We’ve absolutely loved being part of the Bethesda community,” he said in the press release. “It’s heartbreaking to have to leave all of the great guests who have become our friends over the years.”

The Reston PassionFish opened during the 2008 financial crisis. Wizenberg said in an interview that the economic crisis was difficult to navigate, but there were more options for survival than there are during the pandemic.

“That was certainly difficult [in 2008], and you have to make decisions and do promotions and all sorts of things. It’s certainly not a cakewalk,” he said. “But you can’t run a 160-seat restaurant and bar at 25%. It’s impossible.”

PassionFish opened in September 2015 in downtown Bethesda. Bethesda Magazine has ranked the restaurant as its #1 Best Happy Hour & Best Restaurant for Eating at the Bar.

Wizenberg told Bethesda Beat that the last seating on Sunday will be at 9 p.m.

The restaurant’s 55 employees will be laid off due to the closure.

“It’s a shame,” he said. “We love the market. I live in the community. It’s a beautiful restaurant. I feel terrible for the staff. But hopefully our guests will come visit us in Reston.”

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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