There is a little bit of show business in every successful restaurant, say Potomac’s Grace and Bob Rood, and they should know. This local couple is the main attraction in one of the area’s longest running hits: Flaps Restaurant.
This year, Flaps celebrates its 20th anniversary. It is one of a handful of local restaurants to survive and thrive in Potomac’s increasingly competitive market. Flaps remains a mom and pop business, whose owners are as recognizable as the church steeple across the street.
Back when Flaps first opened its doors in 1984, there was little competition. Today the village supports more than 10 eating places, with some, like Flaps, drawing customers from Washington and Northern Virginia.
Grace Rood can be seen trotting from table to table greeting old friends, meeting new ones and occasionally sitting down with them. According to Grace, the influx of new restaurants in the area is a bonus. “These restaurants keep people in our neighborhood,” she said. “The variety and competition are good because it keeps us all on our toes.”
On any evening, local celebrities vie with their neighbors for a favorite table. Sugar Ray Leonard when he lived here, Donnie Simpson, Scott Carpenter and the Shrivers are all regulars.
Republican or Democrat, all are welcome. Mark Shriver (D) celebrated his first victory as a state delegate at Flaps, and the Roods hosted Chuck Floyd (R) for the announcement of his candidacy for Congress. “Everyone knows Flaps,” said Floyd. “There is such a history between all of us in the political world, and they welcome everyone, and that’s why we always end up there.”
Each morning Bob Rood and his dredlocked dog, Biscuit, a Komondor, arrive in the village to start the day with a coffee and a “biscuit.” They are a familiar sight, this matched pair with their shocks of startling white hair.
Rood had been an entrepreneur running his own consulting company with offices here and in California, until he began buying restaurants. “I am like every guy who has spent a lot of time on the road, there was always this desire,” he said. “There is a little bit of restaurant in every man.”
Bob and Grace bought their first restaurant in Washington, D.C., in 1977, and the other in Bethesda in 1980. Grace, whose family was in the catering business, vowed that she would never work in the food business. But she ran both. “I arrived for lunch in one and dinner in another,” she said. Then they bought Flaps in Potomac.
“I screamed, ‘Are you trying to kill me?’” Eventually, Bob sold his consulting company, and they worked side by side.
The Roods’ first restaurant, Flaps Rickenbacker, was an eatery with an airplane atmosphere. The Roods added “Rickenbacker” to the name after they bought it. “Back then people thought we were a pancake house, and we couldn’t have that,” said Bob.
The Roods show up seven days a week, 363 days a year, for lunch and dinner. “We couldn’t walk through these doors for 20 years unless we enjoyed our job,” said Grace.
Hostess Gladys Perry, a 10-year employee, agrees. “Working here is the biggest pleasure. They treat everyone like family.”
But, 15 months ago, Bob had his own challenges. He was diagnosed with throat cancer. He continued coming to the restaurant, and the support of friends there buoyed his spirit. Bob has since noticed how customers are more open to him about their problems, something that had not happened before. “I try to encourage them,” he said. “It is a way of giving back.”
The restaurant employs from 22 to 30 people, including five cooks and one chef: Bob. They offer eight kinds of fresh fish every day and five or more red meats. “The happiest day of our life 10 years ago was when we fired the chef, and I took over the kitchen,” said Bob, who changes the menu daily. They have six waiters and three or four bartenders and occasionally recruit one of their two sons.
Rob, 37, and his brother Tim, 34, grew up at Flaps. Tim went on to other endeavors, while Rob, who has his father’s friendly back-slapping nature, pursued the passion of his parents. At 22, he became a restaurant owner.
Though he has since sold his restaurant, his heart still beats to a restaurateur’s tempo. He can be found, when his parents need his help, mixing a gin and tonic behind the bar. “My brother, Tim, and I grew up here,” he said. “It kept us out of trouble, and at the end of the day, it gave us a real understanding and appreciation for hard work.”