What It Takes: Running a restaurant means a 'million details, and you have to take care of all of them'

Restaurant owner and chef Jeff Black talks about what it takes to run the Black Restaurant Group.
By Avis Thomas-Lester
Monday, October 18, 2010

Local restaurateur Jeff Black learned to cook growing up in Houston with four sisters. At 13, he got a job in a restaurant doing everything from chopping onions to scrubbing toilets. By 17, he was waiting tables and tending bar. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where he also met the woman who would become his wife and partner, Barbara.

Today, they are the chef/owners of four restaurants -- Black Market Bistro, BlackSalt, Black's Bar and Kitchen and Addie's -- under the Black Restaurant Group.

The couple and partner John Linck, who started with the company as a line chef, are currently working to raise $200,000 through four events to benefit a project at the Children's National Medical Center for children with diabetes. He and Barbara live in Kensington with their sons Simon, 12, and Oliver, 10.


Black, 46, grew up in a family with a strong work ethic. His father, Robert, had a construction and home repair business. His mother, Susan, was a receptionist at a glass-blowing company. "When my friends went to college, I stayed. By 17, I was getting experience in the front of the house and the back of house, cooking, waiting tables and bartending, so I found I had a passion for working in restaurants. At a very young age, I decided I was going to open a restaurant and just sort of pointed in that direction and moved forward."


After graduating from the Culinary Institute, Black headed to D.C. looking for a job that would allow him to be near Barbara, who grew up in Montgomery County. He worked at Bob Kinkaid's now-defunct 21 Federal and Pesce, owned by Jean-Louis Paladin and Roberto Donna. Four years after coming to D.C., he and Barbara opened Addie's, which was named after his grandmother. "I get a lot of gratification from the restaurant process, from conceptualizing the restaurant and the menu to working with designers and contractors, to working with banks to put the financial package together. I am very proud of the restaurants we've built."


"Proper funding. It's just as dangerous to have too much money as not enough. If you borrow too much, you can get more debt than you can handle ... If you are underfinanced, you can't finish the project and then you have to borrow money at a very expensive rate and you can't get out from under that. It took years to find the right deal ... Once you get open, you still have to maintain standards and continue to improve your product ... You're constantly climbing a mountain where there's no peak. I tell my managers all the time, 'We have to just keep climbing the mountain.' "


"I think the restaurant was called Aldo's Italian Restaurant. I went with my friend who was interviewing. He was kind of verbose, and I was shy. The owner's wife said, 'I don't like you' -- to him, 'I like you' and hired me."


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