“The Art Deco landmark was formerly a McDonald’s that bore the scars of its past: bullet holes in the walls and crime lurking outside”

by Prince Of Petworth December 29, 2015 at 10:40 am 21 Comments

dc coast
14th and K Street, NW

From a press release:

“When DC Coast sets sail on December 31, 2015, it will leave many waving a grateful farewell. Opened in Washington, DC in 1998, the iconic restaurant in an Art Deco landmark building was the daring first venture of Passion Food Hospitality partners chef Jeff Tunks, Gus DiMillo and David Wizenberg. They had a radical vision to open within the soaring first floor of the historic building at Franklin Square that essentially led the breakthrough for the 14th Street revival. It honored the tri-coastal regions where Tunks found his culinary passion and became an incubator for talented, award-winning chefs who got their start working under Tunks’ wing.

The Art Deco landmark was formerly a McDonald’s that bore the scars of its past: bullet holes in the walls and crime lurking outside, but the partners saw only opportunity. Tunks’ visionary approach paved the way for the area’s renewal and ushered in a new wave of contemporary American cuisine that led to critical acclaim from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Esquire, Bon Appétit and Food & Wine as well as praise from Travel + Leisure as one of the “Top 50 Restaurants in America.” Tunks was a pioneer for DC, among that first generation bringing a contemporary spin to the American table along with Larry Forgione, Jeremiah Tower and Wolfgang Puck. Tunks’ method for recruiting culinary talent followed a similar pattern: look for the potential. The toques who cut their teeth in his kitchen before launching their own ventures have a different perspective about the closing of DC Coast—a gateway that catapulted them to where they are today…

From his team at the five star Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, Tunks tapped Chefs Linton Hopkins, now a James Beard winner in the Southeast, and David Guas, a James Beard cookbook finalist, who leapt at the chance to join their mentor. After several years as chef de cuisine, Hopkins and his wife Gina [they met at DC Coast] moved to Atlanta to build their restaurant empire, which includes Eugene’s, Holeman & Finch, H&F Bread Co., and multiple H&F Burger locations. Hopkins, who Zagat noted as “one of the city’s most prominent and important chefs,” reflects: “I’m sad that one of the true great American restaurants will no longer be a part of the DC restaurant culture. Jeff brought a brash New American cuisine with regionally identifiable foods and it was a homerun from the start. It was for his vision, palate and knowledge that I followed him, and left with so much under my belt. He is a chef not to be overlooked for his contribution to the country’s growth in establishing an American cuisine.”

David Guas remembers the early days like yesterday. Now a successful cookbook author, television personality, and proprietor of two Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery locations, he says of Tunks, “There’s no one else I’d rather have worked 80-to-90 hours a week. His work ethic and high expectations carried us right along with him through opening to what became the hottest ticket in town—and for good reason. There’s no doubt that our intensive training under ‘Big Daddy’ set many of us up for our own successes.”

Brendan Cox now owns and operates Oakleaf, a farm-to-table restaurant in Pittsboro, NC. James Clark is executive chef at Carolina Crossroads at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill. Closer to home, chocolatier Jason Andelman is now proprietor of two Artisan Confections in Northern Virginia.

Thanks for the memories, DC Coast, and for the fine dining, civic leadership, culinary stewardship, and maybe most of all, for raising the bar for bold new restaurants in the nation’s capital and beyond.”

  • Mark

    Good write up.
    Interesting how the named talent that place fostered all dispersed to Southern cities. I do think that speaks to DC’s food culture.

    • Rich

      Going to Atlanta, the most hype ridden place in the country with tremendous grade inflation in Zagat, Yelp, etc. ratings isn’t exactly an endorsement.

  • d

    This is over the top, even by restaurant PR standards.

    • LittleBluePenguin


  • Anonymous

    Pretty sure they are the only ones that believe they were the beginning of the ’14th St. Revitalization’

    • lizcolleena

      I thought the same. I recall that in 2009 the area just north of Thomas Circle on 14th had few good restaurant options, so clearly it took more than a decade for the DC Coast revitalization to have an effect on properties just a few blocks away.

    • Anon

      Sure, it had some effect, but only in the sense that they showed that a solid restaurant can thrive in DC. The continued flood of yuppies to DC had very little to do with this particular restaurant (I’d argue absolutely nothing, actually; older wave of newcomers weren’t here for DC Coast). Black Cat, Cafe St Ex, Bar Pilar are some of the notable early restaurant that have some legitimate claim over that assertion. DC Coast? Nope!

      • Anon

        With that said, I don’t care one bit about them making that claim. They could similarly say they invented the Internet and it would make as much difference as them taking credit for Boomtown DC. Regardless of this PR, they created quite the restaurant empire, which is a huge accomplishment no matter which way you cut it.

    • Rich

      Having lived here in the 90s, I don’t remember this place being as big a deal as they claim. K Street really was a restaurant desert until the mid 2000s from 14th Westward.

  • JM

    They were a great restaurant for many years, and important to the DC food scene in the ’90’s. If they want to go out with a little back-patting, that’s okay with me. Don’t understand why some people need to be snarky 24/7.

    • Anon

      Because the Internet.

  • MarkQ

    Over-the-top indeed. 14th and K was never been Dodge City they are making it to have been.

    • anonymous

      not quite Dodge City, but more like a straight up red-light district once the sun went down. The area around Peoples Drug (now CVS) was a parking lot back in the day with hookers trying to meet their ‘johns’.
      People seem to forget what DC was like in the 90’s – I remember this place was the place to be back in the day.

      • Zora

        Interestingly, popular use of the term “red light district” arguably originated in Dodge City back in Old West days.

    • reality

      Yes it was, not really sure where you’re getting your information.

  • Sg

    I don’t think this is over the top. This is an incredibly important restaurant for the city, for those of us who have been around a few decades. The food scene was pretty bleak when this opened. DC Coast had every bit the hype of a hip new 14th Street restaurant back in its heyday. If the owners are having a moment of nostalgia and bragging a little, let them. They earned it over the last 17 years. That’s a long time to remain relevant in this business.

    • Mark

      Yup. Most don’t recall the old downtown, and how very little there was there at night.

  • madmonk28

    It really was the construction of the Ronald Reagan Building that changed 14th St., before that it was just blocks of red light district.

    • Anon

      Team “National” Building.

      • madmonk28

        Yeah, whatever you want to call it (it’s still National Airport to me), that stretch of 14th was super sketch back then. I use to work at Garvin’s which was set back in an alley, the parking was where a lot of hookers took their johns. Until they razed that red light district to build RRB, it was a very bleak area.

  • Nancy

    I never went to DC Coast, but I spent a lot of very late evenings in the McDonald’s when I was a needle exchange & use condoms volunteer. It was home to many of the area’s hookers getting coffee and a break. Was never there when bullets were fired though.


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