This post has been updated.
Food truck owner Stephan Boillon had waited a year to make his bricks-and-mortar debut with Mothership in Park View, and when the moment finally arrived on Friday -- as part of a friends-and-family soft opening -- he was rewarded with a chef's worst nightmare:
Two broken toes.
The toe-twisting moment arrived after an 18-hour workday in which Boillon had no official meal, other than the bites a chef samples before sending plates into the dining room. He got home on Friday, pulled on a pair of brand new socks and promptly slipped on the first stair he set foot on.
"Someone said break a leg, and I took it too literally," jokes the proprietor of the El Floridano truck, who had been working on the opening of Mothership since last March.
Boillon opted not to visit the hospital. Rather, he realigned the damaged toes himself and went right back to his soft opening schedule over the weekend. He is also full-steam ahead for Mothership's public debut on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the former Brown’s Caribbean Bakery at 3301 Georgia Ave. NW. Boillon is walking with the aid of a crutch and has limited himself to expediting duties in the kitchen.
It's a painful position for Boillon in at least two ways: Yes, there's the physical, ibuprofen-popping pain. But there's also the pain of a brand new, 43-seat restaurant being forced to rely on a small kitchen staff, which is "pretty green" in terms of back-of-the-house experience.
"They're really eager. They really want to learn, so I want to give them a chance," Boillon says. "They're stepping up. They're doing pretty good."
"I'm literally leaning on them now that I broke my [toes]," he adds.
To ease his team into the rigors of restaurant cooking, Boillon has composed a short, savvy menu (see it on PoPville), featuring both small plates and family-style dishes. "It's the way I like to eat when my wife and I go out," the chef says. The menu draws on his French background and the Caribbean flavors that influenced Boillon's palate as a kid in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It gives equal time to dishes such as oxtail-and-bone-marrow mini patties with spicy guava sauce and a "soft herb gnocchi with tongue and escargot ragout."
The one thing you won't find -- at least right now -- are El Floridano sandwiches. Boillon wants to wait until he launches a bar menu and/or a lunch service before introducing his excellent bread-based bites to Mothership. He expects to get his full liquor license in early-to-mid April. He also plans to crank up his wholesale and retail baking operations later, as soon as he finds the right baker for the job.
In the meantime, you'll still be able to purchase sandwiches from El Floridano. Boillon plans to keep his truck rolling, though with a change of personnel. Boillon's longtime streetmate, Mytia Crawley, is taking a job in corporate catering, but not before training her replacement, Patrick Slagle. First, however, Slagle must get certified as a food handler, which will likely keep El Floridano off the streets next week.
Once the truck gets back on the road, it should enjoy longer hours. It's the fringe benefit of a truck with its own restaurant serving as commissary: Boillon and his kitchen will be able to prep sandwiches throughout the day, which means that El Floridano could work evenings, weekends or special events.
One special event has already taken place since Boillon signed a lease for Mothership last year: He got married in August. He had planned on Mothership being open by then, so that he and his wife, Elizabeth Muniot, could take a short break, get married and then come back strong to the restaurant. He also planned that the city would approve his own architectural drawings. Instead, "they basically laughed at me," the owner says.
Boillon has turned his architectural drawings into an interior decoration: On one of his tables, he has encased his plans next to the ones he ultimately submitted from a real architect. He swears they're almost the same. Well, except for the fee he had to pay the architect.
"It's my $8,000 table," Boillon jokes.
Mothership, 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, 202-629-3034. Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Mondays.
An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of El Floridano's Patrick Slagle.