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Hankerings By Jamie Leeds

Jamie’s Fall Favorites

by Jamie Leeds

Fall has finally arrived in DC with the weather to match it. Even though things are cooling down around here, this season always brings a few of my favorite things. The fall food, warm drinks and the scenery are some of the best of the year. Last weekend my son, Hayden, and I dusted off our boots and went apple and pumpkin picking at Homestead Farm nearby. We had a blast bringing back our fall treats, carving pumpkins and getting ready for Halloween. One of the great things about my new house will be decorating the front yard with gourds and ghouls and handing out candy to the neighborhood kids on Halloween night.

As the air starts getting crisp, it’s also the perfect time to host friends and family for a delicious home cooked meal. I love playing with seasonal vegetables- using spaghetti squash in place of pasta or roasting hen of the woods mushrooms with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and lemon. And since it is November, I’m getting excited just thinking about all of the food we’ll be enjoying for Thanksgiving. Wild Mushroom Stuffing is always a hit with my family every year, and as for me? I can’t wait for chestnuts! But I must admit, I do prefer the cranberry sauce from the can with the ridges… it’s just what I grew up with.

I like to cook comfort food and relax with a well-balanced, warming cocktail. Classics like Negronis (they taste even better with Rye) and hearty Italian red wines like Montepulciano are some of my favorites this season. It feels just like putting on an old comfortable sweater. And the team at Hank’s Oyster Bar has also been working hard to bring you innovative, original cocktails with seasonal ingredients and amazing wine and beer lists. Each location has put their own special touch on fall at the restaurants. So, I invite you to pull up a seat at the bar, have a drink with us and toast to a fun-filled fall season.

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Enjoying a Negroni at the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs Meet & Greet at Centrolina.

Love Thy Neighbor

By Jamie Leeds

 

What a fantastic month it has been! Our permits for Hank’s Pasta Bar and The Twisted Horn have officially been approved, which means we are kicking into high gear. As we continue to build the two new concepts, I couldn’t be happier with the overwhelming support from the residents of both Petworth, as well as Old Town Alexandria. It’s humbling to be welcomed so warmly by the pioneers of Petworth- places like Qualia Coffee and Domku (whose owner, Kera Carpenter, actually helped me find the space for The Twisted Horn). I can’t wait to be among peers and friends as we keep watching Petworth develop alongside our businesses and beyond.

Whenever I get going on a new project, it always takes me back to the beginning, where it all started with the first Hank’s Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle. I’m reminded of how friendly and welcoming the 17th Street neighborhood was when we were just a small 55-seat restaurant. That’s when it really hit home the importance of neighborhood and community support. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the communities in Old Town Alexandria and Capitol Hill too. It is our customers who have made Hank’s a place filled with joy, happiness and love… because at the end of the day, it’s about all of you!

Ten years ago, my only intention was to run a mom & pop style restaurant for the neighborhood I called home. Little did I know, we would eventually grow into the group we are today. I recently hired a Director of Operations, Chris Agne, who is helping us maintain the strong community we’ve built within Hank’s itself, because as they say, “It starts from within.” We are truly becoming a restaurant group, or should I say, a restaurant family. As we continue to expand, I’m proud that we’ve been able to keep the same neighborhood vibe in each unique restaurant and The Twisted Horn and Hank’s Pasta Bar will be no different. I’m excited to bring delicious food and drinks to these two new neighborhoods, and to have the opportunity to become a member of the Petworth community while growing deeper roots in Old Town. A big thank you to all of the loyal customers of Hank’s Oyster Bar. AND, to the future guests of The Twisted Horn and Hank’s Pasta Bar- I can’t wait to meet you and welcome you to the family.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

by Jamie Leeds

It’s hard to believe it’s already September! With fall right around the corner, all I can think about is the excitement of opening Hank’s Pasta Bar and The Twisted Horn. Even though permit delays can sometimes feel like slow motion as we move forward, I’ve been staying busy with my team. It’s been a blast getting to plan The Twisted Horn with Megan Coyle and Burke Podany, as well as picking out plates, glasses and silverware for Hank’s Pasta Bar with Chef Nicolas Flores and Matt LeBarron. Sharing these moments with my team is one of the most rewarding parts of opening a new concept.

As we start to hire new bar managers, assistant managers, chefs and sous chefs, we’re reminded about the importance of building a cohesive team. I look for people who want to grow with the company and for people who are smarter than me! Creativity, drive and ambition are all things I look for when hiring staff, but what’s even more important than someone’s experience level is how they fit in with the Hank’s brand. Having the right group of people to help manage is what has made Hank’s Oyster Bar such a success and I know it will be crucial to the success of Hank’s Pasta Bar.

Labor Day is also coming up, which means it’s time for my annual Labor Day Managers Party. It’s a fun evening full of good food and drink, where I have the opportunity to show my appreciation for the hard work that the Hank’s Oyster Bar management team has put forth. I’m cooking a giant paella and whole roasted pig for 50 people this year. I always look forward to hosting the managers, new and old, to celebrate all of our achievements together. The party grows a little bit each year and with it, so does the Hank’s family and our accomplishments!

Looking ahead to the new season, Hank’s Oyster Bar is also getting ready for a few of our annual events. Hula at Hank’s is back for its third year on September 26th at Hank’s in Dupont Circle. We’re very excited to partner with the DC Craft Bartenders Guild this year to host a live Tiki competition during the event. We’re also featuring Hawaiian-inspired specials at the restaurant, leading up to the big event. Grilling up Hawaiian BBQ and sipping on Tiki cocktails will be the perfect way to say goodbye to summer.

Since September 1st marks the beginning of oyster season, shortly afterwards, on October 17th will be the return of Oyster Fest at Hank’s in Old Town. It’s the best way to share our love for oysters with our guests. We’re lucky to have such a loyal following in Virginia and I can’t wait to expand our presence in Old Town. Many of our regulars are already asking about Hank’s Pasta Bar in anticipation. Trust me, we’re just as eager as you are! Until then, stay happy on the half shell!

The Dog Days of Summer

By Jamie Leeds

Hanks On The Beach

One of my favorite parts of the summer is of course the food! This season lends itself to crisp fruits and vegetables, unlike any other time of the year. I love picking up produce from the local farm stands and throwing it on the grill for a delicious, seasonal meal. It’s always fun to test out new grilling techniques and experiment with smoking woods like Applewood and Mesquite. The warm weather makes summertime and the flavors of barbecue a perfect combination.

Last week a few members of the Hank’s team and I had the opportunity to cook at the James Beard Foundation’s Chefs & Champagne fundraiser in The Hamptons on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. Inspired by the taste of summer, we served Hank Oyster Bar’s proprietary oysters, Salty Wolfe, grilled and topped with a Smoky Chipotle Butter Sauce. They were a hit! It was an honor to be the only chef from DC to participate, especially since it was the 25th anniversary of such a prestigious event. After working hard all evening, the five of us got to relax on the beach and play tourists the next day, making it a truly memorable trip.

August is a time where I get to travel with my family and spend time by the ocean in Rehoboth as well. I always appreciate getting out of the bustle of the city with my son, Hayden, bonding over beach fare and watersports. Whenever we’re in Rehoboth, we like to start our mornings with smoothies from Greenman Juice Bar followed by crepes from the authentic French café on Penny Lane. Then we’re off for a full day of beach adventures. When the sun starts winding down, we love ending our day at Henlopen City Oyster House. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of seafood and Henlopen is one of our favorite places to enjoy it. They have amazing grilled fish specials and Hayden always get the clam chowder, any time of the year!

Heading back to DC, it’s exciting to think about the progress we’re making with The Twisted Horn and Hank’s Pasta Bar. When building a restaurant or bar, as you may know, there are always construction delays… but those delays have allowed us to really take in the process of opening two new concepts. It’s given us extra time to test cocktail recipes for the bar- we even took the opportunity to host a pop-up bar in the meantime. It was a pleasant surprise being able to get so much positive feedback from people before we even open. It’s also been a treat watching Hank’s Pasta Bar come to life with weekly tastings, where Chef Nick makes dishes like Pappardelle or Duck Confit Ravioli from scratch. Seeing, smelling and tasting the pasta is one of the most rewarding parts of making this dream become a reality and I can’t wait to share it with you all. So, as DC slows down for the dog days of summer, I also reboot and start looking ahead to the fall.

A Season For Giving Back

by Jamie Leeds

Summer has finally arrived in DC and with it comes the feeling of growth and leisure. These are the few months where we can take advantage of outdoor dining and rooftop relaxing. While it’s great to sit back, for me the summertime has always been a season for giving back. In my life, giving back has taken on many different forms.

It starts with giving back to the community that has helped Hank’s Oyster Bar become the success it is today. All three locations are planning events to bring the community together and as we mark our 10th Anniversary, it’s a special thing to look forward to. On August 16th, Hank’s On The Hill will host its 2nd Annual Beer-B-Q; September 26th marks the 3rd Hula Hank’s luau at Hank’s Dupont; And Hank’s Old Town is in the early planning staged for Oyster Fest on October 17th.

Summer is also a time for giving back to my staff. Just this past month, Chef Theary along with a group of staff members from Hank’s Dupont went on a field trip to tour Barren Island Oyster Company with Congressional Seafood. The Trip gave them a chance to hang out with fun people, learn about the products they work with and of course, sample some oysters! My employees work hard every day to make these restaurants run, and I always strive to give them opportunities to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The Hank’s family isn’t the only one gearing up to give back this year.

Lately I’ve been involved with my friends’ and peers’ charitable efforts as well. Whether it’s being a part of the Chef’s Best event for Food & Friends or cooking at the ArtWorks Chef’s Dinner to benefit accessible art programs, supporting my fellow industry leaders has always been important to me. Being able to participate in these events every year helps keep me grounded in my own life too. They are small, but powerful reminders to never take your success for granted. And in the midst of the DC humidity, I sit back and think about how grateful I am.

Jamie, Gina, Ruth
It was a blast participating with Gina & Ruth at James Beard Foundation’s Sunday Supper.

Hunkering Down to Move Forward

By Jamie Leeds

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini

In the sticky days of late May, when I wasn’t up to fighting the lines at the supermarket, I looked deep into my cupboards and created an enchanting pasta dish with rediscovered gluten-free pasta, canned tomatoes, cannellini beans, jarred artichokes, broccoli, garlic and onions. Ta da! A delicious dish cobbled together from long overlooked staples.

The rain looks beautiful from my window, while I’ve been hunkering down inside and preparing for the next phase of the Hank’s brand. I’ve been spending a lot of time working on my new project in Old Town Alexandria, where I’m building a new concept restaurant – Hank’s Pasta Bar.

Hank’s Pasta Bar will feature rustic Italian cuisine.  We’ll be making homemade pastas and antipasti, our own charcuterie and whole grilled fish. And of course we will have a very extensive Italian wine list with a focus on regional Italian wines. In the near future there will be a catering venue on the second floor for weddings, bar mitzvahs, receptions, etc. and a demo kitchen where I will conduct monthly cooking classes.

Nicolas Flores, who has worked with me for eight years at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Old Town, will be the chef of Hank’s Pasta Bar.  He is currently expanding his skills in pasta making and butchery as he prepares to open Hank’s Pasta Bar at the end of 2015.  This also gives us time for a few research sprees to Philadelphia, New York and Boston – cities with historic Italian communities, and the best and most exciting Italian restaurants and chefs.  We’ll visit Marc Vetri in Philly, Tom Colicchio out of New York and Barbara Lynch in Boston.

As an entrepreneur, owning a building where I have my restaurant is something I’ve always wanted to do.  With Hank’s Pasta Bar, I was given that opportunity.

Big dreams demand some hunkering down to make them come true.  I can almost taste the homemade pasta, the grilled fish and the perfectly flavored antipasti, all while sipping a dry Italian red wine.  Magic begins with imagination.  Then you dig into your cupboard, your resources, yourself and create something amazing.

Love and Oysters

By Jamie Leeds

This is the month of love, of Valentine’s Day and romance.  My journey this year, however, has taught me that love really starts with yourself.  I’m learning how to take care of myself so that I can better take care of others.  I want to be healthy for my son and my employees and my family and friends.  That’s not selfish, that’s healthy!

 

I’ll tell you what else is healthy – oysters!  And how perfectly they represent this month of love.  I’ve always loved oysters, especially after I learned what little super-powered, bivalve mollusks they really are!   They’re not only healthy for us but for the planet as well.  Here’s a short list of their proven goodness.  The health benefits of oysters include:

  • Lowering Cholesterol
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Improving immune functions
  • Aiding in wound healing
  • Improving blood circulation
  • Helping weight control
  • Increasing bone strength
  • AND are considered to be an aphrodisiac

 

Also! These little guys are a major benefit to the environment and have been known to cleanse eco systems of pollutants.

 

Casanova was rumored to have eaten 50 oysters every morning for breakfast.  He was a kind of an example of love in action.  As for me, love in action means that I’m expanding the Hank’s brand with two new exciting projects (stay tuned).  I’m able to do more of what I love to do, more of what other people enjoy about my work.

 

So, this month, come on in and let us feed and love you a little.   Try some oyster love and health too as you try to match Casanova’s 50 oysters a day!   Here’s to taking better care of ourselves and loving more.

New Year = Challenge + Creativity!

By Jamie Leeds

February may be the shortest month of the year, but January seems to zoom by the quickest.   I’ve charged into the new year head on,  as I’m feeling a spark of energy toward building the Hank’s brand and reaching beyond what we already know and do well.  So, I’m working on a few new projects, projects that challenge me both professionally and creatively and take me out of the comfort zone of just building seafood restaurants.  This is risky for me and so it is both scary and exciting at the same time.  And in preparation for this year of growth and change I’m working very closely with my staff this month to plan and strategize a successful year.  One staff change I’ll share with you is that Matt LeBarron, from Grandville Moore’s on H Street, has become the new General Manager for the Hanks on the Hill.

 

I also kicked off the year with the staff holiday party at Union Market.  We gathered, 150 of Hank’s employees and their families, and I gave out annual employee of the year awards for both the front and back of the house for all three restaurants.  It was a joyous celebration of our work together that included wonderful food and drink and dancing!

 

And in the midst of all this swirling change and growth I am supported by good friends and good food.  That is my recipe for self-care.  I celebrated the new year by having my first dinner party in my new apartment and my new kitchen.  I made a Lobster bouillabaisse for 10 friends who filled my new home with laughter, stories, and love.

Friends Dinner

 

And speaking of love… stay tuned for the Casanova Challenge coming in February!

 

Traditionally Untraditional

By Jamie Leeds

I know I’m not alone in being traditionally untraditional.  I was born into a blended family.  Both my mother and father had children from previous marriages.   I have two half sisters, but I am the only child of my parents. It is at this time of the year that I’m reminded of my family’s culture and traditions and the ones I’ve created for myself.  I come from a Jewish home, though we held to few of the religious traditions.  And when my parents divorced I was very young and my mother dated non-Jewish men, so we often celebrated Christmas.

Over the years I’ve developed my own beliefs and traditions.  To create my own traditions I draw on my Jewish roots, the gay community, and my created family. From my Jewish heritage, I celebrate my sense of the importance of community, a higher purpose in business, and a responsibility to support those in need.   From the gay community, I’ve learned the deep value of friendship and the need to celebrate outside our families of origin and to build a new home and new world together.  And with my son, my created family who I co-parent with my former partner, we make up our own rituals as we go – like visiting his favorite Italian restaurant after skateboarding.  Then there’s hockey followed by cooking together – pasta Bolognese – his favorite dish!  And for myself, I’m creating a new tradition that includes lots of travel over the holidays.  (Ask me about cooking a turkey on a boat for Thanksgiving!)

Through Hank’s Oyster Bars, I’m creating community and traditions by nourishing, supporting, and celebrating the people of Hanks and the community of Washington, DC.   In the coming year, let’s keep adding more love, generosity, and kindness into our everyday rituals and life we share together.

And now, here’s my gift to you this year.  Here’s the delicious recipe for stuffing straight from my dear mother’s kitchen.  Friends, please enjoy – Mitzi’s Mushroom Stuffing.   Happy Holidays!!

New Beginnings

BeforeAfter

 

By Jamie Leeds

Recently, I saw an old friend who walked right past me. “Hey,” I called, “It’s Jamie!”  First, there was shock and then my friend and I were laughing and celebrating.  This happens to me a lot these days.  Over the past year, I’ve lost 140lbs.  So either people don’t recognize me, or they’ll ask me what’s wrong, am I ill?  But the truth is that I feel better than I have in years, like a new person.  So, during the recent Jewish holidays I’ve reflected on this big change in my life.

Up until last year at this time, I was overweight and had become increasingly hobbled by arthritis, in my knees and feet.  It was so painful to walk up stairs or stand for a long time, and I couldn’t imagine skiing or running with my son.  My body reflected the stress and strain of over 30 years in kitchens and running restaurants.  I was paying the price for three decades of being on my feet, under pressure, and working day and night with food.  I was in chronic pain and my days consisted of working all day and going to bed by 7pm every night.  It was time for change, drastic change, so that I might enjoy life once again and continue to grow personally and professionally.  So, after considering all my options, I settled on the Duodenal Switch (DS) surgery, because it showed the most success with people not gaining the weight back.

And now, one year later, I am pain free, my arthritis no longer bothers me.  I had also been pre-diabetic and now that has disappeared as well.  I feel great!  I visit a medical doctor every six months and I receive weekly therapeutic support as I adjust to this new body.  I have so much more energy!  I’m able to engage more with my employees and guests at Hank’s.  It’s wonderful to be back in the kitchen working with my chefs and kitchen staff.  I’m really part of the team again, building the excitement for hospitality and success with my staff.  I can envision more positive change and growth for Hank’s.  Now that I’m not exhausted and burdened by excess weight and physical pain I have the stamina to connect more with people and accomplish new goals.

And yes, there have been challenges.  Right after the operation I could only eat small amounts of food.  Very small.  Before the operation I could eat maybe 30 pieces of sushi.  I love sushi!  And now, I can eat only about 5 pieces. I can still eat everything, I just eat smaller amounts.  So, I haven’t been hindered from going out and researching other restaurants and tasting the food of other chefs.  I do however eat more vegetables now and find myself adding them to new and traditional recipes.  Just the other night, at a private dinner for the winners of a charity auction for the March of Dimes, I made stuffed mushrooms and filled them with carrots and onions, rather than sausage.  (Though I did love the tasty fat on my molasses braised short ribs that I also served!)

Oh yes, and fashion has become a fun challenge.  Before, I usually just wore my chef’s coat and pants to work.  I didn’t develop much of a sense of personal style.  But now, I have to go out and buy all new clothes.  I’m out and about more and I need a new wardrobe that fits and reflects this new body and renewed energy.  Though sometimes I still wonder who is that person in the mirror and will she really fit into those tiny pants?  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done a double take walking past my reflection in a mirror or store window.  Who is that?  Oh!  It’s Jamie.