2013 | Dine

Local restaurateurs dish about their successes, failures

How Hilda Staples snagged Chef Bryan Voltaggio

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Tom Meyer, president of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group, was 13 when he began working at bakery, waking up at 4 a.m. to make bagels. He “loved, loved, loved” it, and from then on, knew the restaurant business was for him.

Casey Taylor Patten, co-owner of Taylor Gourmet, started as a host at a Bennigan’s when he was 15, quickly learning that the back of the house was more fun than dealing with screaming kids and other patron issues.

And Hilda Staples, co-owner of Chevy Chase’s Range restaurant, plus Graffiato downtown and Volt, Lunchbox and Family Meal in Frederick, never worked at a restaurant in her life. She was a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, a public relations account director and finally, a bored mom who just wanted to open a bar in Frederick to meet the people in her new town.

There’s no prescribed path to becoming a successful restaurateur, as a panel discussion today revealed. But there are lots of twists, turns and bumps along the way.

The speeches and q-and-a, held at The Hamilton downtown, was organized by industree, a new events business founded by Alisia Kleinmann, a Gaithersburg resident, former personal chef and private dining coordinator for the Matchbox Food Group.

Industree’s speaker series aims to give restaurateurs a platform to share their backgrounds, viewpoints and war stories, allowing others to learn from it all.

While the event was geared to industry, there were interesting tidbits for diners too. Here’s a summary of some of the best bites from each speaker:

  • Tom Meyer from Clyde’s: What gets him out of bed in the morning is knowing that the Clyde’s restaurants are dining saloons where everyone feels comfortable—where “a cab driver talks to a man in a tuxedo about the Caps loss.” Another Meyer motto: “It’s better to eat at a bar than drink at a restaurant.”
  • Casey Taylor Patten from Taylor Gourmet: The Bethesda store, the third location of Taylor Gourmet’s now-8 gourmet sandwich shops, turned into a big learning experience. In retrospect, Patten said that he and partner David Mazza didn’t truly understand the Bethesda market—with its density of restaurants, families and diners who know what they want. It took the partners about six months after opening in Bethesda in 2011 to realize they needed a kids’ menu and had to offer wheat bread, mayonnaise, mustard and more salads.
  • Hilda Staples from Range et al: That bar that she wanted to open in Frederick—serving “pickles, nuts and cocktails”—turned into the future Volt restaurant. But first, the admittedly naïve Staples would fail to get a liquor license after being told she had to serve food, too. So she went home and looked through her “Barefoot Contessa” cookbooks, devised a menu, and gave it to the liquor board. Realizing she’d need a chef, she noticed in an article that Bryan Voltaggio—then working in downtown D.C. at Charlie Palmer Steak—had grown up in Frederick. “I stalked him a lot,” she recalls, calling him out of the blue, and even dragging her vegetarian husband repeatedly to the steakhouse. Finally, Voltaggio “must have had a bad day,” says Staples, and he e-mailed her back. Volt opened in 2008.