When David Winer recounts the launches of the five EatWellDC restaurant group establishments he doesn’t note openings by year. He identifies how long each has been in operation, as if doting on the ages of offspring.
It’s a fitting quirk for the serial creator of affection-winning restaurant-bars with a welcoming “family feel” extended to employees and patrons alike.
Winer, originally from the Boston area, enjoys 30 years in the industry – first honing his hospitality skills at a Back Bay restaurant. His employer partnered in Winer’s inaugural Miami Beach restaurant in 1993.
Josh Hahn, Winer’s nephew growing up a block away in Newton, Mass., worked at an upscale gourmet carryout and caterer while in high school. Completing a business degree at Emory University in Atlanta, Hahn came to D.C. 12 years ago to join the staff at his uncle’s first local venture. Grillfish restaurant, opened in 1996 at 21st and M streets near Dupont Circle, has remained popular for seafood specialties and American fare in a relaxed setting.
Featuring elevated ceilings, wood textures, warm colors and eclectic accents, the casual environment and cuisine would serve as a model for subsequent eateries. Logan Tavern, opened in 2003 off a desolate-at-the-time 14th Street corridor, was followed by now-named Commissary in 2005. Both are prominent fixtures on the 1400 block of P St., N.W.
“We were busy from opening day” at Logan Tavern, recalls Hahn, “so busy that I had to splash water on my face every so often.” It was the “right concept at the right time,” he says, noting that the venue quickly won the loyalty of locals eager for dining and socializing spots during the area’s then-nascent re-emergence. “We were able to give the neighborhood something it wanted,” affirms Winer, “and it helped the area grow.”
“Everyone thought I put together something magical,” Winer says, “but it was just something lacking and appreciated.”
“The neighborhood needed so many things,” Hahn adds, “we helped accommodate the desire for a consistently reliable and value-oriented” product that contributed to “a sense of community.”
The duo, with partner Tony Oquendo, next looked north to open The Heights in 2008, at the commercial corner of 14th and Kenyon streets in Columbia Heights. An expansive outdoor patio and light-filled interior pub-tavern ambience have made it an area mainstay.
This spring will mark the second anniversary for the newest addition to the EatWellDC family of restaurants. Usually “fiddling with a concept” for several months, Winer figured the evolving plethora of 14th Street dining options suggested something “very special, very unique.” The Pig, at 1320 14th St., offers a distinctive nose-to-tail “pork-centric menu with eccentric fare,” says Hahn. “It’s a completely different concept.”
Several years ago Winer, frustrated by the lack of reliable availability of locally sourced organic produce, found a 13-acre farm for sale in La Plata, Md., an hour outside the city. EatWell Natural Farm, initially a hard-labor-of-love, now supplies in-season vegetables, greens, tomatoes, herbs, orchard fruits, vine berries, and beehive honey. A new greenhouse extends the growing season and produce variety.
It’s taken significant investment to grow the farm, Winer points out, “but we’re committed to sourcing produce from our farm and other sustainable growers.” He notes that proteins are ethically raised, free-range and organic.
Employing nearly 200, “our staff become like family,” Winer says, “and represent an incredible cross-section,” noting many have been with the company nearly 10 years or longer. “By expanding,” notes Hahn, “we can provide opportunities to grow into new leadership positions” while serving the community.
Winer, helming the enterprise with Hahn handling managerial details, adds, “We’re always thinking about the next opportunity.”