The shop D.C.’s top chefs, foodies visit each month

Ryan Swanson sharpens a knife using an ancient technique of sharpening on a Japanese water stone. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
D.C. Sharp is a corner shop set up in Union Market. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
While most of the business is sharpening knives, the Swanson brothers also sharpen hair cutting shears and scissors. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
The first aid kit is always nearby the sharpening station. Ryan Swanson jokes they include a band aid with every freshly sharpened knife as many chefs underestimate their new tool. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)
Swanson uses the final refining water stone to sharpen a knife. The liquid on the stone is a mixture of water and metal coming off the knife. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

WASHINGTON — It may sound like an unnecessary expense, but chefs swear by it. And more and more foodies are picking up the idea that sharpening their tools can improve their experience in the kitchen.

In a corner of Union Market, Ryan Swanson methodically runs a blade over a Japanese water stone, his fingertips just millimeters from the razor sharp edge.

“You’ll see him move his fingers up and down the blade like he’s playing an instrument,” brother Derek says observing Ryan sharpen a French chef knife.

Though the Swanson brothers have only been sharpening knives for a few years, they’ve quickly become masters of the Japanese hand sharpening technique and their shop, D.C. Sharp, has become a go-to source for the area’s top chefs.

“We count almost every professional chef in this town as our clients. And they like to come hang out here and bring their knives and look around. It’s kind of like a toy store for chefs,” Derek Swanson says.

That’s because D.C. Sharp also sells knives that range from the hundreds to thousands of dollars each.

While professional chefs have likely known for years the value of a sharp blade, 85 percent of the shop’s customers are at-home chefs. Derek Swanson is the first to say setting up shop in Union Market has given their business the advantage.

It puts the service front and center for foodies who frequent a market which boasts some of the most popular restaurants in the city as its tenants.

Usually, the average customer brings in kitchen knives sold in knife blocks. While most any knife can be sharpened, Derek Swanson says, customers quickly learn that a quality knife holds its sharpness longer than a cheaper one.

“The market for knives has traditionally been you go to a store and those stores will offer a giant set of knives in a block and people say, ‘Oh, that’s a good deal. I can get these 10 knives for $100 dollars,” Swanson says.

“What they don’t realize is they’re buying nine knives they’ll never use and the one knife they need to use is made so cheaply it’s going to go dull almost immediately,” he says.

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Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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