Holding a glass of white wine, Jackie Greenbaum, with her blond bob and effervescent personality, manned the host stand Tuesday night at the front of her eponymous restaurant in Silver Spring.
It’s rare to see the owner of five successful restaurants posted at the host stand, but Tuesday night was special for Greenbaum. She was surrounded by former staff members who helped her turn Jackie’s into the neighborhood institution it became during 12 years in business near the intersection of Georgia and Sligo avenues.
“It’s the most personal project that I’m ever likely to do, so I am very, very proud of what we did here,” Greenbaum said of her first restaurant. “It’s a beautiful project. The food has been exquisite, it was a truly unique place and it created a sense of family.”
The group had come together for an alumni night—the former chef manned the kitchen, the restaurant’s first host joined Jackie to greet customers and former managers and waiters returned to help out with dinner service—before the restaurant closes this weekend.
On Tuesday, a steady stream of former employees, friends and longtime customers greeted Greenbaum with hugs throughout the night and shared their stories about what the restaurant meant to them. The restaurant was full and Greenbaum had to turn away several walk-ins who hadn’t made reservations.
Nancy Mola, co-owner of nearby 8407 Kitchen Bar, said Jackie’s inspired her to open her own neighborhood restaurant in Silver Spring.
“Without her doing this here, I never would have done 8407,” Mola said.
Johnny Dubon, who was the restaurant’s first host when it opened in 2004 and worked the front of the house for six years, said the staff became like a family to him.
“I had my first alcoholic beverage when I turned 21 here,” Dubon said.
During the early years, Greenbaum said the restaurant’s new American cuisine drew customers from around the region, resulting in waits nearly every night for a table. It was also her first restaurant and a learning experience that she says set her up for future success.
“We were so wildly busy in the beginning years and it was a very bonding experience,” Greenbaum said. “We were all pretty young—well, I wasn’t—but they all were.”
Lane Tapley, a downtown Silver Spring resident, said the restaurant quickly became a favorite in the neighborhood both for its food and for the unique crowd it drew—a mix of artists, local politicos and neighbors from the diverse community.
“It’s always been an interesting food and people scene,” Tapley said.
Also on hand was Sam Adkins, the restaurant’s first chef. He was working in the kitchen with his crew, making a mix of Jackie’s originals such as Jackie’s Cioppino as well as items from his new restaurant Sally’s Middle Name on H Street in Washington, D.C.
“Jackie’s is a huge part of my life,” Adkins said. “It was my first real chef job and I learned a lot of great lessons here. It was a creative awakening.”
Chef Sam Adkins, second from right, with his crew at Jackie’s Restaurant Tuesday night. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
As Greenbaum manned the host stand, Jim Byers and Moshe Adams shared with her how their relationship began three years ago to the day inside Jackie’s.
Byers said he wanted to impress Adams, whom he had recently met, on their first date.
“I wanted some place cool, with really good food and drink, and I knew he liked Silver Spring,” Byers said. So he picked Jackie’s and brought Adams for dinner there in 2013; three years later the two are still together and Tuesday night celebrated they their anniversary of that date inside the restaurant.
Leaning against the bar was Forest Hamlin, a longtime customer of Jackie’s, who would stop at the restaurant during his commute from work in D.C. to his home in Laurel.
“There’s gonna be a lot of sad people when this place closes,” Hamlin said. “It’s a real neighborhood spot. The first night we came here we couldn’t get in, it was so packed and we had to eat at an Italian place across the street. The next time we got seats, tried the food and drinks and we kept coming back.”
“This place is my Cheers,” Hamlin added.
Jung-Ah Park, the longtime bar manager at the restaurant, stopped in and gave Greenbaum a hug. In February, Park opened Bibim, a Korean restaurant a few doors away from Jackie’s on Sligo Avenue.
“I feel like I lived at Jackie’s for eight years,” Park, who is known by regulars as J.P., said. “The staff here was like family, partly because we worked so much. This is where I grew up as a restaurant person.”
She said that Greenbaum was a thoughtful boss who took care to help her employees grow their careers.
As for Greenbaum, who also owns Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring as well as D.C. restaurants El Chucho, Slash Run and Bar Charley, she says Jackie’s will always hold a special place in her heart. It was where she was introduced to the restaurant business and started her career.
“There’s something special about the space. I take nothing away from my other restaurants, they’re all wonderful and they’re all very different from one another and from Jackie’s, but not one of them has, I can’t put my finger on it, [but] there’s something indescribable about the experience of being in Jackie’s dining room and I’ve not felt it any place else.
“Now I’m going to cry,” Greenbaum said, wiping away a tear.