Austin Grill Express Closes After 4 Months of Operation at Varsity
Representatives of the restaurant chain won't reply to interview requests, but city officials say a new management direction and poor patronage might have been factors in the closure.
Austin Grill Express, the Tex-Mex chain restaurant on the ground floor of the student housing tower The Varsity, closed after just four months of serving burritos, tacos and other fare, though the exact reason is unclear.
College Park’s Economic Development Coordinator Michael Stiefvater said that management has begun reigning in the Express chains, an offshoot of Austin Grill, which offers a limited menu. Express locations have also recently closed in Rockville and Annapolis.
But there could have been more factors at play, Stiefvater said in an email.
“Their closing was likely due to a combination between an internal issue and less patronage than anticipated,” Stiefvater said.
College Park City Councilman Bob Catlin, whose District 2 encompasses The Varsity, said that the foot traffic at Austin Grill Express paled in comparison to its busier neighbors, like Bobby’s Burger Palace, though he said he is surprised the restaurant closed so suddenly.
“The business there was terrible,” Catlin said. “They had no business. They never had customers.”
Two calls to the Austin Grill Express for comment were immediately directed to Thompson Hospitality, a Virginia food service company. Patch’s six calls to Thompson Hospitality went unreturned. Additional calls to Potomac Holdings, LLC, a Maryland real estate firm who deals with The Varsity, and to former Austin Grill Express general manager and head chef Khari Bell, went unanswered as well.
“The rental rates at The Varsity are some of the highest in the area so a strong flow of customers is needed to survive, so simply offering a service found at other locations isn’t likely to be a winning formula,” Stiefvater said.
“I wouldn’t say this reflects negatively on College Park as this same issue can be found in any place with numerous restaurants,” he added.
Some were disappointed to see the chain disappear so quickly, including University of Maryland communications major Amanda Robbins. She said the restaurant appealed to students in the mood for Tex-Mex but not willing to travel to Chipotle at the College Park Shopping Center. The restaurant’s proximity to The Varsity, University View and View II made the chain appealing to students, she said.
“I really like Austin Grill Express, especially on the Dollar Taco Days,” she said. “It was a good alternative to having to go far away for Qdoba or Chipotle.”
As for now, Ralph Tapiero, vice president of Papadopoulos Properties, said other restaurants have inquired about Austin Grill Express’s location, though no plans have been made for a new tenant. In an interview early this month, he said he hopes to have an occupant for the space in the next 60 days.
“We don’t want what just happened to happen again,” Tapiero said.