Located in National Harbor, far from the mainstream of D.C. dining, Succotash has been a relatively safe port for Louisville-based chef Edward Lee to introduce his Asian-infused Southern cooking to Washingtonians. Or at least to the conventioneers who visit the self-contained community of breezy amusements. If the bar was set low at National Harbor, Lee had little trouble clearing it: He earned a two-star review and a healthy reservation list.
Come next year, though, the chef will move from sideshow to the big top: Knead Hospitality + Design, in partnership with Lee, will open a 9,000-square-foot Succotash into a historic building at 915 F St. NW, formerly known as the Equitable Bank Building. With more than 350 seats over three floors, the Penn Quarter location will instantly become the flagship of the Succotash brand — and perhaps one of the major dining attractions in downtown Washington.
The new Succotash is scheduled to open in March 2017 with lunch and dinner service, and a bar with 200 whiskeys and a sizeable wine program.
"This space really affords us the ability to branch out on the culinary side, on the design side, and really do what we want Succotash to be able to do. So, we do think of it as a flagship location for us to create the type of full Succotash concept," says Knead co-founder Michael Reginbogin during a phone interview.
If it sounds like Lee — a perpetual nominee in the James Beard Awards — and Knead are gunning for Michelin stars, you wouldn't be off-base in that assumption. The famous Michelin Guide will drop its first volume dedicated to D.C. dining on Oct. 13, too early for Succotash D.C. to earn a star. But the principals wouldn't mind seeing Succotash DC in the 2017 guide.
"I'm sure it's something that's crossed all of our minds," says Knead co-founder Jason Berry. "We always want to take the brand further. National Harbor was a great place to test the concept and the menu, see what works, see what doesn't. And now we have a bigger canvas to paint on, and you have to take some chances and push the culinary envelope 100 percent."
The plan, according to the partners, is to maintain the staples that "put Succotash on the map at National Harbor" — the crispy blue catfish, baby back ribs, pimento cheeseburger with bacon jam — but rejigger the menu with about 40 to 50 percent new items. It's too early to say what Lee may create for the D.C. location, but Berry says that National Harbor restaurant couldn't include a wood-fired grill. So expect some dishes with smoky flavor.
Before anything happens, however, the Knead team has to complete designs. Reginbogin is working with //3877, a Georgetown firm that has designed Momofuku CCDC, Matchbox on 14th St. NW and other restaurants. The building's interior, with its soaring ceilings and statuesque columns, has been designated a historic site, which means Knead and company have to work with preservation officials to get approval for all designs. Knead plans to maintain the building's Greek revival architecture while adding "grand touches evocative of late Southern architecture."
At present, Berry says, the space is nothing but a "cold, dark shell."
Adds Reginbogin: "We have to open everything up and put in plumbing, electrical, sewage, bathrooms, kitchens, you name it. There's nothing in there right now. There's not even air-conditioning."
Despite the historic hurdles they have to clear, Reginbogin and Berry are confident they can hit their target opening date next spring.
"We have no issues or concerns about being able to create the space we want to create. We have to jump though some hoops before we get the building permit," says Berry.
To which his partner Reginbogin adds: "With a shell that's empty, you have a lot more flexibility as to what you put where. Where are we going to put the kitchen? Should we put it on the first floor, the second floor or the basement?" That, in the end, may shave time off construction for Succotash D.C. — and allow Edward Lee to jump-start his campaign for Michelin stars.