Arra Lawson performed so well at Addie’s in Rockville that, earlier this year, the toque was given the executive chef position at Black’s Bar & Kitchen, the Black Restaurant Group’s Bethesda property.But Lawson couldn’t summon the magic touch a second time; he apparently ran into conflicts in the new kitchen and was ousted by a majority vote of BRG principals, says owner Jeff Black.
“Something misfired,” Black tells Y&H. “The chemistry just wasn’t right.”
It wasn’t any one major issue, Black says, but more a collection of small ones, like a “punctuality problem” and conflicts with some of the cooks in the kitchen. Instead of letting it fester into a stinking black mess, BRG management decided to tackle the conflict. Black and two other BRG managers, including the one for HR, looked into the situation and took a vote amongst themselves over whether to release Lawson. The vote was 2-to-1 against the chef.
Black was the lone dissenter. As the big dog at BRG, Black could have trumped his managers, but he opted to let the majority rule. “I have to look at the whole and what’s best for the restaurant.”
BRG typically doesn’t offer severance packages, but in this case, Black says he gave Lawson “the single largest severance in the history of the company.”
Black didn’t have to look far for Lawson’s replacement: Quanta Robinson was already the No. 2 cook at Black’s when BRG tagged her to take the lead spot. She’s been with the Black Restaurant Group for years now, working her way up from line cook at BlackSalt to the top position at Black’s.
Robinson isn’t revamping the menu at Black’s — at least not yet. With all the changes in the kitchen of late — Robinson is the fourth executive chef at Black’s in the past 15 months — Black says he doesn’t want to create more chaos by overhauling the menu, too. Instead, Robinson has been using the specials menu to test her new creations, like a soft shell crab with black-eyed peas in a light veal-based sauce.
“There’s been enough change,” Black says. “We got to think of the customer here.”
Photo courtesy of Black’s Bar & Kitchen