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Potomac restaurant named after boxing great fights for spot among chain eateries -- Gazette.Net

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  • Wednesday, March 12, 2014 Share Comment Print

    Potomac restaurant named after boxing great fights for spot among chain eateries

    Owner Benny Fischer gets creative with decor, entertainment to win diners

    by Melissa Candia
    Special to the Gazette Tom Fedor/The Gazette Roy Cantarero works the grill at Benny’s Bar & Grill at the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac.

    • Hands, as door handles, greet patrons as they enter Benny’s Bar & Grill at the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac. Tom Fedor/The Gazette
    • Owner Benny Fischer chats with an employee at Benny’s Bar & Grill at the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac. Tom Fedor/The Gazette
    • Benny’s Bar & Grill at the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac. Tom Fedor/The Gazette
    • “I’m not afraid to take chances and do different things. It promotes the restaurant,” says Benny Fischer of Benny’s Bar & Grill at the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac. Tom Fedor/The Gazette
    • “I’m not afraid to take chances and do different things. It promotes the restaurant,” says Benny Fischer of Benny’s Bar & Grill at the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac. Tom Fedor/The Gazette
    Roy Cantarero works the grill at Benny’s Bar & Grill at the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac. Tom Fedor/The Gazette << Prev Next >> More News Minority businesses make good headway Leggett says Montgomery will be cautious on restoring funding Court decision on defendants’ rights looms over Maryland judicial system Work group rolls out views on marijuana Metro seeks development ideas for Forest Glen Red Line station advertisement

    Benny Fischer’s interests are as eclectic as his restaurant tucked in the Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac.

    The Potomac man is an entrepreneur of sorts, involved in a variety of enterprises. He founded Yummy Yogurt in 1976, among the the first frozen yogurt chains in the Washington area, and created Red Neck Premium Beer for Fischer Brewing Co. in 1995, among other endeavors.

    His newest venture: Benny’s Bar & Grill, which opened in May.

    “I’m just an opportunist. I like to create different businesses. That’s my energy, this is my hobby,” Fischer said. But Benny’s is the last restaurant he plans to open.

    “It was a labor of love, but I’m tired,” he said.

    The restaurant is named for his grandfather Benny Bortnick, a well-known local wrestling champion during the 1940s. Bortnick also was a middleweight fighter who established several boxing and wrestling clubs in the area for the D.C. Police Boys Club. After World War I, the former wrestler owned and operated several restaurants in Washington, including the Triangle Restaurant on the Main Avenue waterfront and the Village Inn Restaurant on Rhode Island Avenue. He died at age 55.

    Fischer designed Benny’s Bar & Grill to reflect the 1940s era, featuring vintage pieces of decor. Black-and-white photos of classic actresses decorate the walls. The bar is made of stainless steel and the ceiling is adorned with silver foil tiles, from which hang schoolhouse light fixtures.

    A self-proclaimed picky eater, Fischer looked to serve classic American comfort food when he created the menu. “I’m able to offer something for everyone, and have a menu diverse enough that people can come here often enough without getting tired,” Fischer said.

    He aims to create a “Cheers”-like atmosphere at Benny’s.

    The goal? “Feel like you belong,” he said.

    Roger Zuckerman, a regular customer, said he often goes to Benny’s with his wife and sometimes his children and grandchildren.

    “The food is good and the service is good,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Gazette. “Most importantly, the place has a great vibe. It’s more than just an anonymous restaurant that puts food on the table. If you spend much time there, it has a sense of community.”

    Benny’s, keeping with its 1940s theme, regularly offers live jazz and screens classic movies on an 80-inch television. Recently, Italian designer Franci Fonati, a friend of Fischer’s of 25 years, held a trunk show at the restaurant, lining the area normally reserved for seating customers with up to 10 clothing racks full of Italian leathers and furs. Fischer said Fonati, who usually holds his shows at Washington hotels, sold twice as much at Benny’s and will likely return next year.

    Fischer said a failed Trivia Night proved not all events work, but he continues to try everything, part of what he calls “guerrilla-type marketing,” typical of nonchain restaurants that cannot rely on TV and radio advertising. Fischer said that, as a small-business owner, he is at a disadvantage without a budget or well-known brand to help him to attract customers.

    Fischer said he offers a nostalgic experience specific to the area that chains don’t understand: Benny’s serves Peter Pan hush puppies and hot fudge cake, local favorites of generations past.

    “I’m not afraid to take chances and do different things. It promotes the restaurant,” he said.

    One such “different thing”: Benny’s is hosting a comedy show Saturday night, for which Fischer hired a producer out of Baltimore.

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