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Alex McCoy departs Duke’s Grocery to launch Southeast Asian restaurant

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Alex McCoy, the founding chef of Duke's Grocery, a $20 Diner favorite near Dupont Circle, has left the craft-conscious sandwich shop to prepare for his next project: a restaurant that will focus on Southeast Asian cooking, continuing the District's trend of opening eateries that channel the authentic flavors of Thailand, Laos and other countries.

McCoy has not yet signed a lease for his new place, but he plans to take trips to Thailand and other locations in Southeast Asia in February and March to research the cuisine for his future restaurant. McCoy's younger brother, Nathaniel McCoy, will join him in the venture. The elder McCoy also promises a robust bar program.

The chef, who left Duke's about two weeks ago, hopes to have a lease signed and his new, still-unnamed restaurant in operation by late spring.

"There are so many aspects of [Southeast Asian cooking] that people don’t get to see," McCoy said via a phone conversation, politely blocking all attempts at specifics. "There are so many aspects of the culture and food culture over there that I think are delicious."

Meanwhile, over at Duke's, co-owner Daniel Kramer has promoted Rick Koplau, who had been overseeing the late-night menu, to head chef. Koplau previously worked at Ritz-Carlton hotels in Lake Tahoe and Sarasota.

"We are going to maintain our focus on top quality seasonal ingredients, preparing dishes from scratch in small batches, and broadening the boundaries of what a sandwich can be," Kramer said via e-mail. "The line cooks that Alex trained remain in place, and the Proper Burger is still the most popular dish on the menu. We are excited to continue to be a part of the Dupont Circle hospitality community overall and 17th Street specifically."

McCoy would not comment on whether he was still a partner in Duke's. "The whole situation is good," McCoy allowed. "Everyone's happy. Everyone's in place. Everyone's organized. . . Everyone's still close."

Whenever McCoy opens his place, he will join an increasingly crowded field of authentic Southeast Asian restaurants in the District. The list already includes Little Serow, Soi 38, Thip Khao and Baan Thai (inside Tsunami Sushi). Others will soon join the market, including Bad Saint (which will host another pop-up, this time at Crane & Turtle on Jan. 10 and 11) and Maketto.

McCoy's official comment on leaving Duke's Grocery:

"Friends, after a year and a half of working with my awesome partners over at Duke’s Grocery, I am excited to announce that I will be leaving to work on a new project in the DC area. You guys and gals have been legends and I appreciate all of the amazing support you have given myself and the Duke’s family. The team is still working hard in the Duke’s kitchen and the burgers are still flippin’! 2015 is going to be a very tasty year!”

Duke's Grocery official press release on the changeover:

WASHINGTON DC—January 5, 2015—Duke’s Grocery sends a warm shout out of appreciation to our customers and neighbors for an amazing 2014 as we look forward to a great year ahead.
Our plan is to keep our familiar seasonal bistro selections humming while continuing to provide friendly service
in a warm environment. We will be sprucing up the patio, adding to the cocktail list and continuing to innovate
on the menu, while maintaining our popular dishes and high standards of freshness and quality. In addition, we
will expand our operating hours in 2015. This includes opening up one hour earlier for Weekend Brunch, which will soon begin at 10 a.m. and keeping the kitchen open throughout the afternoon into late night.
Chef Alex McCoy, who helped open the restaurant in September 2013, is excited to be moving on to new opportunities in his culinary career. His imaginative influence on the design, theme and concept of Duke's Grocery, and the flavorful foundations he has drawn, will continue to be found in our neighborhood pub.
We are pleased that chef Rick Koplau, who has been overseeing the late night food program at Duke's Grocery since the summer, will step into a larger role. Koplau was previously at the Ritz-Carlton Hotels in Lake Tahoe and Sarasota, along with stints in England, Germany and Poland.