Forget 401Ks and pension plans. Robert Wiedmaier has a better long-term investment idea for his most loyal employees: a stake in his newest restaurant.
Wiedmaier, who owns Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck in the District and Mussel Bar in Bethesda, tapped five of his longest-serving employees to become part-owners of Wildwood Kitchen, which opened in Bethesda last week.
Each of the employees, including the executive chef, sommelier and maitre d’ of Marcel’s, received a 5 percent stake in the restaurant. Wiedmaier owns the remaining 75 percent of Wildwood Kitchen, which was financed with a $1.2 million loan.
“To me, it was a no-brainer,” Wiedmaier, 52, said. “Being in the restaurant industry is tough. It requires so much dedication and time. This was a way to give back.”
The team of five part-owners oversaw the opening of the new restaurant. Julie Albert, director of catering at Marcel’s, secured Wildwood’s liquor license and is setting up the restaurant’s off-site catering business. Moez Ben-Achour, the sommelier at Marcel’s, is overseeing the wine selection at the new restaurant.
“The fact that we are part-owners makes it so exciting,” Ben-Achour, who has been working with Wiedmaier for 14 years, said. “We grew up with Chef Robert.”
Wiedmaier said it may be a few years before the restaurant’s loan is paid off and its owners begin earning profits. In the meantime, all of the owners receive a 2 percent management fee every quarter.
Eventually, though, Wiedmaier said he expects each part-owner’s stake to bring in at least $65,000 or $70,000 of extra income every year.
“I want my employees to make enough money to do nice things with [their] family,” he said. “I want them to be able to have nice meals and travel to Paris if they want to.”
Adnane Kebaier, the maitre d’ at Marcel’s, said he’d like to use his proceeds from Wildwood Kitchen to invest in other new restaurants. Albert said she plans to save her earnings, for now.
“It would be nice to buy a house sometime down the road,” she said.
Fourteen years ago, Wiedmaier quit his job as chef at the Watergate Hotel to start Marcel’s, a French-Belgian restaurant in downtown Washington. He borrowed $125,000 from the equity on his house for a down payment on the property.
“It was so hard to say to people, ‘Yes, I can cook. Please give me money, Mr. Banker. Please believe in me, Mr. Investor,’” Wiedmaier said, adding that he wanted to help the budding restaurateurs get a head start with their involvement in Wildwood Kitchen.
“They helped negotiate the lease, sat down with architects, wrote the menus, picked out the wines,” Wiedmaier said.
On a typical day, Paul Stearman, executive chef at Marcel’s, heads to Wildwood at 7 a.m. and meets with the restaurant’s staff. At around 3 p.m., he heads to Marcel’s, where he supervises the kitchen until about 2 a.m.
“This business is not easy,” Stearman said. “I remember starting at Marcel’s, I was making $28,000 [a year] for a long time. It’s nice to say I own something now.”