Help Wanted

What makes DC a great food city is not just the food, but the media that cover it. We are lucky to have a collection of passionate and hardworking journalists in DC who do more than just review the new poke place. Or the new poke place. Or the new…For real, what the Hell with poke?

To understand this business, you must look past the fabricated drama of openings and closings and what pop-up theme bar has the longest line. This is a business with many determiners of success existing behind the scenes. Recently, one of DC’s best food writers, Jessica Sidman at the Washingtonian, drew attention to what might be the single most critical factor in the success or failure of restaurants over the next couple of years.

Staff.

This piece draws attention to what is being considered a crisis. I have written that talk of a bubble is hyperbole, but this issue is very real, and while I don’t think it will deflate the industry, I do think that many restaurants that might otherwise have the pieces in place to be successful, will not be.

As the article points out, every operator in town is acutely aware of this issue, and it is not a new one. However, what makes this piece helpful is that it singles out the Wharf as particularly exacerbating the problem.

No doubt, the Wharf will be a good thing for the city. Growing up here, the SW waterfront was good for buying seafood, and that was it. It is certainly underutilized, and I look forward to seeing it succeed. I also look forward to someone inviting me to see the Foo Fighters opening night at The Anthem. Hello? Anyone? Sigh.

As the excitement builds towards the opening of the Wharf, residents are excited, and no thought at all is given to how many customers it will take to support these businesses. That should be a concern. There are simply too many places for everyone to do well. And with the prices these places have paid, they will need every customer they can get.

Reports are already out that several places will not meet the required opening deadline. That is expected but nonetheless troubling.

But again, that is not the real worry. Sidman’s article states that the Wharf will need nearly 900 employees just for the restaurants. And she rightly theorizes that those employees will certainly come from other restaurants. That of course is nothing new—staff routinely hop to the newer spots.

But there is still a gap.

There simply aren’t enough competent and well-trained employees to staff all these new places and all the other places that are continuously opening around the city.

The solution to that problem is complicated, but workforce development is key. There are solid jobs at every skill level to be had in restaurants, and there is substantial opportunity for growth. Whether it is local non-profits focusing on culinary specific job training (plug for my non-profit, La Cocina VA), or broader initiatives by local and national government, more needs to be done.

There is always talk about America needing better jobs, but that is not true here in DC. The jobs are here–we need the people to work them.

And to be clear, I do believe that our industry needs to do more. The antiquated ways in which we treat staff need to continue to evolve. The idea that long hours, low pay and tough conditions are part of the job is ridiculous.

If we want to attract the best and the brightest—and occasionally just get a warm body in there to fill a shift—then we need to do more ourselves to attract that talent.

I have had a lot of conversations of late with smart people in the business who are trying to figure this out. We are way past realizing there is a problem, but we also don’t have all the solutions in hand. Articles like this help to make the broader community aware of the crisis, and perhaps allow for outside solutions we haven’t thought of. I think that would be welcome.

Food Frenzy: Try 11 New Restaurants Before They Open

This article first appeared in Washington City Paper on September 6th, 2017

Whet your appetite for 11 forthcoming restaurants at Mess Hall’s third installment of New Kitchens on the Block on Sunday, Oct. 8. It’s the largest class of coming attractions the recurring event has featured to date. The first one, held at Mess Hall in Aug. 2016, highlighted seven new restaurants.

Attendees bounce from station to station trying bites and sips from each new restaurant’s chef at the Northeast D.C. food incubator. Tickets are now on sale for two separate two-hour sessions, beginning at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. General admission tickets cost $65 and VIP tickets, which come with a gift bag, are $105. These events typically sell out.

Highlights include:

Spoken English and Brothers & Sisters 

Both of these Erik Bruner-Yang restaurants are bound for the LINE DC Hotel. Diners can expect Spoken English to feel like a lively Japanese “tachinomiya” or standing restaurant common in Tokyo. Only 14 diners can fit at a time and the food will consist of yakitori, tempura, noodles, Peking duck, and more. His other restaurant, Brothers & Sisters, will feature Taiwanese and Japanese twists on American classics.

Lucky Buns

Chef Alex McCoy of Alfie’s is readying to open his burger joint in Adams Morgan. The patties are inspired by his world travels. “Whether I’m in Bangkok, South America, or London, I have to find the best burger shops,” he says.

Maydan 

This next restaurant from the Compass Rose team pulls inspiration from Eastern Europe including the Caucasus, as well as North Africa and the Middle East. Executive Chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan will be doing a majority of the cooking over open flames at the restaurant going into the Manhattan Laundry Building just off the 14th Street corridor.

Coconut Club

Chef Adam Greenberg is bringing a little aloha spirit to the Union Market district with his restaurant Coconut Club, set to open in 2018. Some of his favorite things to make are island-inspired including poke, Spam fried rice, and jerk chicken. Greenberg formerly worked at Barcelona Wine Bar.

Pluma by Bluebird 

Pluma is also headed to the Union Market district. Married pastry chefs Tom Welling and Camila Arango are opening a bakery and cafe that will serve breakfast pastries, salads, sandwiches, Roman-style pizza, dessert, coffee, beer, and wine. Because Bluebird Bakery sells to many coffee shops around town, you may have already tried their food.

Chloe

Chef Haidar Karoum is opening his first solo restaurant in Navy Yard. It’s named for his niece and the ancient Greek goddess of agriculture, Chloe. He previously ran the kitchens at Estadio, Doi Moi, and Proof. Karoum will focus on cuisine inspired by his Lebanese roots, his love of cooking Southeast Asian cuisine, and his travels around the Mediterranean.

Other participants include:

Bindaas (Foggy Bottom): A second location of Ashok Bajaj’s Indian street food restaurant.

Manna: Chef Todd Gray, the longtime chef/owner of Equinox is opening an Israeli food restaurant inside the future Museum of the Bible.

The Eleanor: Chef Adam Douglas Stein, formerly of Red’s Table, is bringing a restaurant and bowling lounge to Ivy City.

Dorjee Momo: Try Tibetan dumplings and other dishes from Tibetan refugee Lobsang Dorjee Tsering. His meals are currently available through meal delivery service Foodhini.

Cured: Chris Johnson and James Brosch are partners in all things charcuterie. Expect them to serve slices of duck prosciutto, Tuscan-style pork liver mousse, and a rillette.

In addition to food, many of the restaurants will serve cocktails with spirits from New Columbia Distillers, Catoctin Creek Distillery, and One Eight Distilling. Also look for local illustrator Samyuktha Krishna, who will sell food-focused artwork during the event.

Mess Hall, 703 Edgewood St. NE; eventbrite.com/e/mess-hall-presents-nkotb-30-tickets-37632647261

48 Essential Coffee Shops Across the DMV

This article first appeared in Eater.com on Aug 9th, 2017

In the past two years, there has been a major influx of independent coffee shops opening in Washington, which means caffeine lovers have more places than ever to get their pour-over or nitro brew fix. Local success stories such as Compass Coffee continue to multiply, while outside operators are getting in on the action too, with ongoing expansions around the city by San Francisco-based Philz Coffee, Philadelphia-born La Colombe, and, most recently, Oakland-based Blue Bottle Coffee.

Here are four dozen (and counting) of the DMV’s best coffee shops:


43 Takoma Beverage Co. (In Alphabetical Order)

Takoma Beverage Co. features pour-overs and espresso drinks made with North Carolina’s Counter Culture Coffee beans. Though the atmosphere is coffee house, there’s plenty in the order of light tartines, cocktails, and draft beer.