Shaw Interview Series: Seasonal Pantry with Dan O'Brien
I had the privilege of catching Dan O'Brien for an interview at Seasonal Pantry. I say "privileged"
since he works over 120 hours a week, and I was appreciative
that he made time for the interview.
Right after I arrived at 11AM, it seemed Dan had already made 12 jars of
green tomato and lemon jam and 80 jars of Strawberry jam. One of the first things I noticed was that the man has a work ethic.
(along with business partner Ali Bagheri) are the owners and head chefs of two
new restaurants in Shaw: Seasonal Pantry
and SUNdeVICH, both of which were awarded Best New Business in 2011. Seasonal Pantry took first place, and
SUNdeVICH followed. Below is the interview.
Kevin: Alright, let's start with a little bit about
yourself and a summation of the business.
Dan: Let's see.
I'm originally from upstate New York (Rochester) and heard that DC was a
great place to be for the restaurant industry, especially if you want to open
up a new place. So I moved and thought I
would try it out. I've got 15 years
background in cooking. Those years are
the foundation of what Seasonal Pantry is.
Everything I have learned over my career and education with cooking goes
into my hands and my products. Seasonal
Pantry should express that and this place should be everything I have
K: So cooking is a passion if not more than a
For me being behind a stove is kind of my life. It has made me a better
person and it makes
it my life more enjoyable and more easy going--though I work a lot
(laughs). I would never trade this for anything. Moreover I feel
cooking is so important for
people's lifestyles. I've always
believed cooking is very connected to the health of people living
together in a
home. A lot happens around a stove top
and you want to take advantage of these moments. And that is what
Seasonal Pantry is; it's for
people who love coming together to cook and eat.
K: Let's talk about the concept of Seasonal
Well, the space of the building drove the concept. What is that phrase, "necessity is the
mother of invention?" Well, that's
Seasonal Pantry. This space was suppose
to house a 22 seat restaurant. But we
had other plans. We wanted to do a
pantry instead. Jam and jars to stock
the shelves with baked
goods, pastas, ice creams: all the
initial things that we knew how to make.
Ali and I knew this would be a revenue channel but we needed something
more than just this.
K: So what else did necessity invent?
D: The Supper Club
Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
night. 10 seats. Possibly 12. And you are sitting around one big
table. Four course pre-fix and two
courses unannounced, so altogether a six course menu. $97 with tax and
gratuity included. In my opinion it's a bargain. Supper Club is
great. I think we do a great, great job. There is always room for
improvement. We want to be the best we can be at
everything. Handwritten menus, home-made
everything. It is suppose to feel like
you are at your friend's house, or a relative's house. It's suppose to
feel like another world when
you eat here. The service is
non-fuss. We don't want a pretentious atmosphere. We want a low key
K: On that note, can you talk more about the
D: Well, I think it's easy to fall into a rut
when you don't own your own place and instead you are cooking for
else. When you cook what the cook wants
your creativity is thwarted. I found myself in this position before I
opened Seasonal Pantry. Now the
creativity is in my seat. It's a whole
different ball game. I love tweaking things just the way I want. It's
rejuvenating and inspiring. It is so nice to cook the way I want to
K: And the menu?
Well, for the first 10 months we changed the dinner menu for the Supper
Club every week. Never repeated for one
week. Now, after having listened and
observed the customers and their feedback, we are getting a sense that a menu
change every two weeks might be better because customers could talk it up more
and we wouldn't be changing so much so fast.
It's fun and creative to change the menu, so we love doing that and we are going to keep doing that.
K: What about your philosophy on supporting
Get the money to the farmer and cut out the middle man. 90% of Seasonal
Pantry is usually local. And my word is to be held to that stat.
Local for me is as close as Marion Street for
our herbs and as far away as Boston MA if
I can get the money to the farmer. My
father still ships rhubarb from Rochester.
I like keeping my farmers on the East Coast. Definitely Delaware,
DC. But not everything can be
local. Do I buy canned tomatoes
sometimes? Yeah. I'm not going to lie
and say everything here is 100% local.
But when I say 90% is local, I mean it.
Come and ask me and I'll tell you what is local and what isn't. I'm
serious about supporting local. Everything at Supper Club and
the shelves is 90% local.
K: What about your recent award for "Best
New Business in Shaw for 2011?"
Thank you to Shaw for voting Seasonal Pantry as best new business of the
year. And we were grateful enough to
have Shaw choose SUNdeVICH second. So,
for Ali and I, it is back to back.
K: It seems Shaw has spoken.
D: Enough said!
Just get ready for an even year during 2012.
K: So you are a resident of Shaw. Why is Shaw so likable?
D: There is something different about these
pockets of neighborhoods that are just awesome.
Where you can ride down 10th street and its so beautiful and then you
can find yourself in a little bodega and all of a sudden you are finding some
cool little restaurants and some cool bars.
The people are great.
K: Where do you see Shaw going?
D: Deeper into its community roots while
expanding. Shaw is on the cuff of
breaking out. I am looking forward to
the growth of Shaw though sometimes the growths seems daunting. Ali and I are serious about really figuring
out how we want Seasonal Pantry and
SUNdeVICH to fit in to the upcoming developments in Shaw.
K: Based on Seasonal Pantry and SUNdeVICH's
popularity, I'm sure you will have a significant role as Shaw expands.
D: Let's hope so!
again to Dan O'Brien for his time.
SUNdeVICH is soon to come!)