Tina Leone looks at the 58 restaurants in the five-block radius under the auspices of the Ballston Business Improvement District and sees something: There's room for more.
Leone, the BID's chief executive officer, announced Wednesday night that her organization will kick off a Restaurant Challenge early next year to bring the "next signature restaurant" to Ballston. And Mike Isabella, restaurateur and a runner-up on Top Chefs All-Stars, will be on hand to help out.
"This new program is designed to again activate vacant commercial space and showcase the community of Ballston as a magnet for discovery and creativity — and to show again that Ballston is a haven for entrepreneurs from all industries," she told a crowd of more than 200.
Contestants will compete for a prize package that includes a free one-year lease of restaurant space in Ballston, with more to come.
The announcement came on the heels of the BID's successful LaunchPad Challenge, which saw more than 225 entrepreneurs and startups vie for a prize package that ended up being $15,000 in cash, free office space and furniture in Ballston, and legal advice for their burgeoning business. Washington Capitals owner and renowned investor Ted Leonsis, who was involved in that year-long competition, and a team of judges Wednesday night decided that two bright ideas won the chance to take their business to be the Next Big Thing.
Leone announced next year's Restaurant Challenge while the judges were deliberating Wednesday night.
It will be open to established, experienced chefs who will need to submit a thorough business plan. Selected contestants will showcase their skills at next year's Taste of Arlington, according to the BID's website.
The organization will begin accepting applications online in early 2014. The new restaurant will open in September.
Isabella, who plans to open the Northern Greek-inspired restaurant Kapnos Taverna in Ballston next summer, will be involved in the contest and a judge.
"Whatever I can do to help these guys become restauranteurs, I'm happy to," Isabella told Patch on Wednesday at the LaunchPad Challenge's closing reception. "You've just got to take risks sometimes in life."
Isabella said when he first wanted to open Graffiato in DC, all of his family and friends said he shouldn't take the chance.
"Once everybody around me told me not to, I knew that's when it was time to do it," he said. "Because I always have to go against the grain."
This article originally appeared Thursday, Dec. 5.