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All We Can Eat
Posted at 07:30 PM ET, 07/05/2011

What’s the future for Minibar and Cafe Atlantico?


America Eats: A pop-up restaurant that could have staying power. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
With the opening of America Eats Tavern on — what else? — Independence Day, the future of three Jose Andres properties seems murky at best — and downright bleak at worse. The temporary closing of Andres’s Minibar doesn’t help; it seems to have fueled rumors that it won’t be reopening, period.

After spending some time with the ThinkFoodGroup last week, talking about 1,000 different things, I walked away feeling as if I had an even shakier grasp about the futures of Minibar, Cafe Atlantico and that pop-up restaurant, America Eats. Andres would say one thing, and his business partner Rob Wilder would offer a slightly different spin, as would others in TFG.

“That means we gave you the right impression,” deadpans Wilder over the phone this afternoon. “The futures of all three are still uncertain, though it’s our intention to continue all three concepts.”

ThinkFoodGroup has every intention of expanding Minibar once America Eats finishes its run in the former Cafe Atlantico space, Wilder says. The only question is when. The America Eats Tavern could remain open past the closing date of its partner in gastronomic history, the “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam” exhibit at the National Archives, which closes on Jan. 3. The ThinkFoodGroup must then decide whether to launch immediately into the Minibar expansion or give itself some breathing space between concepts.

The only thing ThinkFoodGroup knows right now is that Minibar will officially reopen on July 12.

ThinkFoodGroup has even less concrete plans for Cafe Atlantico at this time. It’s a concept “we want to reinvent somewhere,” Wilder says. “We hope we didn’t give the impression that it’s popping up in a few months somewhere…It’s more like a couple of years.”

As for America Eats Tavern, Andres had originally told me that the next iteration of the restaurant will come from people who “eat here and leave influenced by it and do it somewhere else. Or the young cooks that I have here, fascinated by it, [who] leave and do it on their own somewhere else.” I assumed that meant ThinkFoodGroup would license the concept for others to execute.

Wilder says that’s not the case; Andres was apparently conflating two different TFG projects.

“I think that particular one [America Eats] is too important to us to license or loan,” Wilder notes. “I think we can say categorically that we want it to stay in D.C.”

So why not just leave America Eats in its current, three-story home and move Minibar to a different location, perhaps one better-suited to the number of people will plans to serve a night?

“For one thing, it is a building we own,” says Wilder, noting that ThinkFoodGroup closed on the building at 405 Eighth St. NW in December. “That was always our plan to make sure wherever we sunk the flag [of] the culinary headquarters for Jose…it should be in a property that we control.”

But there are other reasons, too, Wilder adds. The Atlantico/America Eats space is architecturally tricky for a restaurant, with its kitchen on the second floor and dining areas scattered throughout three floors, none of which hold many seats. The design makes it difficult to turn a profit, let alone operate on a day-to-day basis. The Minibar, even in its proposed 18-seat expanded form, is not designed to generate profits for ThinkFoodGroup; it’s more of a gastronomic showcase and laboratory for Andres.

The expanded Minibar, various ThinkFoodGroup employees told me, would likely be an multi-level affair, in which the guests would start with drinks on the first floor, enjoy the full experience on the second floor and then retire to “Jose’s Library” on the third floor for after-dinner drinks and such.

By  |  07:30 PM ET, 07/05/2011

Categories:  Chefs | Tags:  Tim Carman

 
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