The Buzz with Karen Elsbury of Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Karen Elsbury is a Real Estate Manager for Potbelly Sandwich Shop. She has helped bring over twenty stores to the District, including the most recent Howard University location.
What about Potbelly drew you to do real estate work for the restaurant?
I joined Potbelly last December and this year has definitely been one of our most active. When I worked in Crystal City at Charles E. Smith (now Vornado) we signed one of the first Potbelly deals in the area and I have been a huge Potbelly fan ever since. To now be working for them and opening more shops in DC has been a great experience. We have a great product and as a company we really care about our people and our customers. I like how we try to be a little different than the average sandwich place, whether it’s having the local musicians performing in our shop or having a potbelly stove in every store to putting a cookie on our shake straws.
Your latest store located at Howard University has been a huge success. What is it about this spot that makes the restaurant so successful?
Howard University is really underserved as far as food options are concerned. The density is there so I think when you offer a quality product at a good price point, combined with the desire to give customers a great overall experience, you’ll be successful. If people want a sandwich at Howard, we want to be that place and both the students and the Howard University Hospital have been very supportive.
Potbelly boasts “Good Vibes and Great Sandwiches” in all of its restaurants. In what ways have you embraced this motto at the new Howard University location?
Potbelly has asked every General Manager to make their shop The Neighborhood Sandwich Shop and our GM, Leon, has really embraced this culture at Howard. Our shop is filled with Howard memorabilia and our Associates are actively involved in campus life. They interact with Sorority and Fraternity groups on events and they even sit on the panel to elect Mr. and Ms. Howard. Leon also has an open mic night every week at the shop that bring in groups of students to hang out with their friends and listen to music. He literally cannot walk down the street without people stopping to say hello. Anyone who walks into that shop immediately knows it is something special.
What advice can you offer to other businesses that are either newly located or are looking to locate in DC?
Good retail space that makes sense economically can be challenging to find in DC, but we have one of the strongest markets in the country and your sales will reflect that. It’s competitive but if you have a good product that shouldn’t be prohibitive. I think there’s still some vacancy at Howard so give Kristen Braun at CBRE a call!