Hard Times Cafe sails through zoning hearing with one city request: don’t change the chili

The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) is most often in the news as a hurdle for local property owners, but the Board had nothing but praise for local restaurant Hard Times at a meeting to discuss upcoming renovations.

Hard Times Cafe is a restaurant on King Street known for its chili, burgers and general American cuisine. The restaurant is planning to temporarily close later this year for a series of internal changes.

The work would involve making the building more accessible with a new restroom and elevator, along with refinishing the walls, and floors. A second-floor bar will also be redone as part of the renovations.

The work will require the restaurant to temporarily close at some point this year.

Richard Kelly, owner of Hard Times, said he wouldn’t answer how long it would be closed.

“I never try to answer that question,” Kelly said. “Whatever they tell me, it’s always twice as long and twice as much. We’re trying to see if there’s a way to get some chili nearby because we have a lot of people addicted to our chili and have been coming for a long time.”

Kelly said he’s working on relocating staff to other locations — there are Hard Times restaurants in Fredericksburg, Rockville and Springfield — to try to minimize the impact on staffing.

The BAR had little by way of critique for the proposed changes.

“The one thing we wouldn’t approve is changing the menu,” BAR member Robert Adams wrote.

Kelly said the restaurant keeps the menu as close as possible to the family recipes passed down by co-founder Fred Parker.

“Fred had his three fold menu, which we went away from during Covid,” said owner Richard Kelly. “Now, we put it back. Part of the reason it’s there is so it can’t have anything more than what Fred originally put in it, which is what we want.”

Photo via Hard Times Cafe/Facebook