At least one highly regarded chef in the city says he’s adjusting under the assumption that the so-called power lunch, especially along the K Street corridor, won’t be what it used to be.
But that’s not to say that Matt Baker, the owner of several restaurants, including Michelin-starred Gravitas in Northeast D.C., believes fine dining is dead — which he’s heard his entire career.
Instead, he’s adamant that fine dining isn’t going anywhere. Fine dining is changing, rather, and Baker said his company is leaning into the fast casual, cafe-style restaurants, where there’s already a glut of options.
“That’s definitely an area of the market that is growing and that the consumers are leaning toward, where you can get an elevated sandwich, breakfast, lunch, salad, snacks — really well prepared, really well executed, really thoughtfully made at a value price,” Baker said. “We’re just seeing a lot of consumers moving toward that direction and not really looking for a really upscale fine dining experience right now.”
That’s especially the case downtown, where Baker runs a restaurant named Michelle’s, at the Eaton Hotel on K Street NW. He’s also opened up a more cafe-style place, similar to an Au Bon Pain or Cosi, called Baker’s Daughter, also at the Eaton Hotel.
“A full service restaurant during lunch was always a volume game,” Baker said. “It needs to be in-and-out in less than 45 minutes. And I just don’t think you have the volume of people around that are willing to go experience that. If you don’t have the volume, then if you’re a full service restaurant it’s really difficult for you to keep your doors open.
“With rent on K Street, on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, to only cook for 30 people, 20 people, you really need to be doing, you know, 150 people for lunch to make sense for you. And so there’s very few restaurants that are still able to do that.”
He said his Baker’s Daughter concept had lines out the door for coffee at 7:30 a.m., and that about 90% of the store’s revenue comes in before 5 p.m. at its location on the corner of 12th and K Street NW.
And with profitability up compared to his other venues, even though those restaurants have menus that are much more expensive, he’s getting ready to open his next Baker’s Daughter in Georgetown soon, with plans to expand into northern Virginia after that.
“I think that in cities like D.C., you are seeing a downtrend in upscale restaurants offering lunch and being competitive for lunch,” Baker said. “I think that’s where cafes come into play. You can get something on the go, you can get something to sit down as well and it’s going to be elevated quality.”
And what of the glut of those types of restaurants that already exist in the downtown and tourist-driven core?
“We’re offering similar styles of cuisine, just honestly better prepared. The food’s better,” Baker said. “It is a little more expensive in price. But I think people want to spend that and they’re OK spending a little bit extra in price because what they’re getting is going to be really well prepared, really well executed, really thoughtful. And at the end of day is not going to break the bank and it won’t cost an arm or a leg.”