One week, the Hawk & Dove is aiming to upgrade its menu — the better to align its fashionable, chandelier-heavy renovation with dishes that drip with chef-driven finesse — and the next week, it's back to square one for the Capitol Hill institution.
At least that's how Ed Witt, the chef with a thing for numbers (701, 8407 Kitchen Bar), generally depicted the situation when contacted by phone this afternoon. As first reported by Young & Hungry, Witt had revamped the lunch, brunch and dinner menus at Hawk & Dove in about 10 days before being shown the door.
But another call or two unearthed a bigger tale of business woe: Witt's sudden dismissal is part of a seismic shakeup within Barracks Row Entertainment, the group of investors that owns not only the Hawk & Dove but also the Chesapeake Room, Boxcar Tavern, Molly Malone's, Park Tavern, Lola's Barracks Bar & Grill, Senart's Oyster and Chop House and the forthcoming Willie's Brew & 'Que. Just seven-plus months after purchasing the restaurants from Xavier Cervera on New Year's Eve, the Barracks Row group has already removed its operating partner: Richard Cervera, Xavier's brother and former chairman of the Taco Cabana chain.
The other Barracks Row investors apparently didn't care for Richard Cervera's handling of the properties. Veteran managers and bartenders at each restaurant chafed under the new management and quit, says Adrian Mishek, the new director of operations for Barracks Row Entertainment. What's more, Richard Cervera apparently did not notify his other investors about the dramatic changes he was trying to implement at the Hawk & Dove, Mishek adds.
"Richard wanted to transform Hawk & Dove into a fine-dining restaurant," Mishek says. "That's why originally Ed was sought and brought in to do the food."
Mishek says the other investors had nothing against Witt and his refined cuisine. It just wasn't the vision they had for the Hawk & Dove, which was supposed to operate as a saloon with more progressive pub grub. "It had nothing to do with Ed at all," Mishek emphasizes about the chef's dismissal.
Richard Cervera could not immediately be reached for comment.
The shakeup with Barracks Row Entertainment, Mishek explains, goes well beyond any conceptual issues at the Hawk & Dove. Xavier Cervera has been asked to come back and start overseeing the restaurants that he originally sold in the final hours of 2012.
"I've had to step back in and get things back to normal," says Xavier Cervera. His involvement is, in part, self-serving, Xavier Cervera says. He financed a good part of the sale to the Barracks Row group; the last thing he wants is for the company to default and hand him back a handful of poorly performing restaurants.
In the two weeks since he took over operational control from his brother, Xavier Cervera says he has "plugged a lot of holes" and hired new general managers for the Park Tavern, Boxcar Tavern and the Hawk & Dove. "A lot of [employees who quit] are coming back now. A lot of them are excited about a new beginning," he adds. "We'll get back on our feet."
Both Mishek and Xavier Cervera say they still have a lot of work ahead of them. Among other things, managers and owners want the Chesapeake Room to refocus on ingredients from local and regional farms. They also want to put the Boxcar Tavern back on the right track, transforming it into the cutting-edge gastropub it was designed to be.
Witt's dishes apparently didn't last long at the Hawk & Dove. For a couple of days, Xavier Cervera watched what patrons ordered from Witt's high-end menus. He says it was all burgers and flatbreads, not the duck or other pricey options available.
"It was silly to even go that route," he says. The Hawk & Dove is "nicer than it was before, but it's still a saloon."
With Witt's dismissal, the Barracks Row team has re-installed Jeffrey Edwards as chef at Hawk & Dove. Edwards had been working at the Capitol Hill saloon before moving over to the Park Tavern near Navy Yard. Xavier Cervera says Park Tavern is expected to hire Brian Klein, former executive sous at Brasserie Beck and the chef who opened Senart's.
In the meantime, Witt has been helping out at Custom Fuel as he considers his next move. He's says he deciding whether to stay in Washington or move to New York, where he had worked earlier in his career.