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Transforming America’s dining experience and the D.C. dining scene

Jaleo opened 20 years ago in Penn Quarter. It helped to launch D.C.\'s dining scene and Jose Andres\' career. (Photo courtesy of Greg Powers)

Rachel Nania, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Twenty years ago, restaurant partners Rob Wilder and Roberto Alvarez convinced a 23-year-old chef to help them launch a new restaurant in downtown D.C.

At the time, Wilder and Alvarez had big dreams of opening a tapas restaurant in the District — and the young chef, Jose Andres, dreamed of bringing innovative Spanish cuisine and culture to American tables.

On April 5, 1993, the three restaurateurs opened Jaleo, a restaurant dedicated to traditional Spanish tapas and small plates, in Penn Quarter.

“We decided we found our great chef and future partner,” says Rob Wilder, CEO and founding partner of Jaleo. Wilder explains that prior to coming to D.C., Andres spent time traveling around the country, but was not tied to a specific city or restaurant.

At the time, Wilder, Alvarez and Andres were stepping into a new territory with Jaleo’s tapas menu. Very few restaurants were serving small plates — a style of dining that is now much more common.

“We weren’t the only ones doing tapas. There were a couple of outposts around and some places in New York. Really, the place where tapas were first embraced in the U.S. was in Chicago,” Wilder explains. “But Jaleo really did help to accelerate and transform the idea of tapas.”

Similar to Jaleo’s transformation of traditional Spanish food, the restaurant also helped to transform D.C.’s downtown dining scene.

“It was transitional downtown in the early


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