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Published December 17, 2009, 06:01 AM

One North Dakota Farmers Union restaurant thrives in Washington, D.C., while the other struggles

By: Jon Knutson, The Fargo Forum

North Dakota Farmers Union officials say they’re committed to both of its Washington, D.C., restaurants, even though one has struggled.

One of the two – Founding Farmers – is profitable and winning honors, including being named one of the nation’s 50 best new restaurants in 2009 by Travel+Leisure magazine.

The other restaurant – Farmers & Fishers, originally known as Agraria – continues to lose money.

Combined, the two restaurants lost money in fiscal year 2009, with losses at Farmers & Fishers more than offsetting profits at Founding Farmers, said Woody Barth, North Dakota Farmers Union vice president.

But changes at Farmers & Fishers, including new management, are promising, he said.

“We think things are headed in the right direction,” he said.

Some background:

Founding Farmers opened in 2008 near the White House.

Founding Farmers “dramatically exceeded sales goals in its first year and is now showing a weekly profit,” according to information on the Farmers Union Web site.

The 263-seat, green-themed restaurant features food bought directly from farmers.

Founding Farmers is described on the Travel+Leisure Web site as a “militantly green spot with an urban-barnyard aesthetic (that) takes eco-consciousness to a new level. Menus printed on recycled paper with soy-based ink list such wholesale American favorites as skillet corn bread, a good honest meatloaf and fried chicken.”

The restaurant has won several awards, according to the Web site of Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, the management company for Founding Farmers and Farmers & Fishers.

Founding Farmers’ honors include:

•2009 Readers’ Choice/Best New Restaurant, DC City Paper.

•2009 Top 100 Best Restaurants, Washington Magazine.

Agraria was opened by the Farmers Union in 2006 on Washington Harbor, a picturesque part of the city that’s a bit farther than Founding Farmers from lobbyists, lawyers and other Washington workers.

The 350-seat restaurant has more space than needed, hurting financial returns, Barth said.

But management of the former Agraria has been switched to Vucurevich Simons, project manager of Founding Farmers, and the new management has made positive changes at what’s now Farmers & Fishers, Barth said.

For instance, there’s an effort to fill Farmers & Fishers with private dining events, Barth said.

Officials with Vucurevich Simons didn’t return two phone calls and an e-mail seeking comment Tuesday.

The Farmers Union is optimistic that the overall operation of Agraria LLC, its Washington restaurant company, will be profitable in the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to the organization’s Web site.