Emilie’s on Capitol Hill has lost its second head chef this summer. Hamilton Johnson, formerly of Vidalia, Honeysuckle, and American Son, stepped into the role in late June when there appeared to be a messy break-up between founding executive chef Kevin Tien and partner Sam Shoja.
“It just turned into a different situation than what I initially expected,” Johnson says. “There was a cloud over the place from the Kevin and Sam split that just never went away. It was just an uncomfortable situation. And with just the sheer lack of revenue it made for the best decision to be laid off.”
Emilie’s investor Johann Moonesinghe commented on Hamilton’s departure via text message. “From what I understand the team at Emilie’s was having a conversation about how to reduce costs and Chef Hamilton decided it was better for him to not take a salary and keep the rest of his kitchen team paid,” he writes. “Anyone who knows him knows that Chef Hamilton is not only incredibly talented, but is the most caring chef in the city.”
Shoja agrees with Moonesinghe’s assessment of Johnson leaving and says he will reach out to City Paper soon to disclose plans for the future of the business. Restaurants continue to struggle to bring in revenue as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its fifth month. As restaurants reconfigure their operations, fine dining are having a particularly tough time since their doesn’t always translate well to take-out or outdoor dining and many Washingtonians have been laid off and are without disposable income.
The official word on Tien leaving Emilie’s, published by Washingtonian and Eater, is that all parties came to a mutual agreement. Shoja absorbed Tien’s stake in Emilie’s and relinquished his 40 percent share in Tien’s Ballston restaurant, Hot Lola’s.
Nightlife blogger Barred in DC put together a timeline of the restaurant’s evolution, which included comments from people who said they were current or former staff members. City Paper has not yet independently verified each of the claims and accusations made in Barred in DC’s post. Moonesinghe sent Barred in DC comments, but Tien did not.
Tien tells City Paper he had to sign non-disclosure, non-disparagment, and non-compete agreements. Shoja says Tien was only asked to sign a non-disparagment agreement and that the non-compete was part of the lease. The parties don’t agree on whether a non-disclosure agreement was signed.
The purpose of a non-disparagment agreement or clause in a contract is to prohibit one party from criticizing another in a way that would damage someone’s financial worth or reputation. A non-disclosure agreement, on the other hand, is typically more focused on protecting trade secrets and other proprietary information about a company that isn’t public.
Emilie’s, 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; (202) 544-4368; emiliesdc.com