O’Donnell’s Sea Grill, which celebrated the 90th anniversary of its first location this year, recently announced it will close its doors on July 27. Owner Bill Edelblut said the final decision to close rather sell the restaurant was actually made about a year ago.
Originally, Edelblut said, he wanted to turn it over to a former O’Donnell’s general manager, but negotiations fell through. “So I decided to actively look to shut down. It was a tough, roller-coaster decision,” said Edelblut.
[Kentlands resident Rick Dugan, who was the general manager for O’Donnell’s from 1999 to 2011, confirmed that he was initially interested in purchasing the restaurant. Both he and his wife, Valerie, worked at both the Gaithersburg and original Bethesda O’Donnell’s restaurants. The couple opened The Grilled Oyster Company in September 2012.]
While O’Donnell’s has been in business for almost a century, the restaurant is newer to Kentlands. Edelblut’s grandfather opened the first location in Northwest D.C. in 1922, and his mother moved the business to Maryland, opening in Bethesda in 1956. Edelblut began working for the family business at this location, bussing tables and washing dishes at the age of 14. On Aug. 1, 1997, O’Donnell’s Sea Grill opened a Gaithersburg restaurant and began serving the Kentlands community. The Bethesda location closed in 2001.
Edelblut bought the land and built the nautical restaurant building where the Kentlands O’Donnell’s is today. Now, he has has sold the property back to Saul Centers, Inc. Saul Centers, a subsidiary of B.F. Saul Company, owns the Kentlands Square and Kentlands Place shopping center properties.
“Saul will probably keep the building and [just] redesign it,” Edelblut said. “But the name goes with me.
According to Edelblut, a new tenant is planning to open a mussel bar-type restaurant in the O’Donnell’s space.
When asked his reason for closing O’Donnell’s after working for 40 years at the restaurant, Edelblut simply replied that there were numerous reasons, all of which had an equal part in his decision. “For one thing, I don’t get enough time with my wife, my family or my grandkids,” he said. “Another reason is that our style of restaurant is going out of vogue. It is old-fashioned, not the latest trend.”
However, he said, O’Donnell’s does have a very loyal following, for which he is grateful.
Edelblut said he intends to make the restaurant’s late-July closing “a celebration [of O’Donnell’s nearly century-long success] — a joyous occasion.” He admitted his kids and grandkids will be sad to see O’Donnell’s go, and that he himself “won’t know what to do with myself when I wake up the next day.”
“You never know. I could resurface somewhere,” he added.
Edelblut looked back on his restaurant and what it has meant to him and its many employees and patrons over the years. “I will miss my staff, the community and its support. [Even just] the customer interaction! I told my wife I wouldn’t mind bartending for a year just to help me wind down,” he said. “The restaurant business is great because it’s different every day — the joys and the headaches. I think O’Donnell’s has meant a lot to the area for the past 90 years. Many people have met here … gotten engaged here and gotten married. [All] because of O’Donnell’s.”
Claire Fleischer contributed to this story.