It has been four months since the Post‘s Tom Sietsema reported that Roberto Donna would resurrect his once-powerhouse Italian restaurant, Galileo, in the old Butterfield 9 spot on 14th Street NW. Enough time has passed, in other words, to crank the gossip mill to a fevered pitch. One source told Y&H that the landlord of Hamilton Square, the historic building that housed Butterfield 9, no longer wanted Donna because of the chef’s checkered financial past.
Bill Miller can only shake his head in mock disgust at the rumors. Well, that’s the impression I got yesterday evening as I talked to Miller, the director of retail leasing for Transwestern Commercial Services, who’s handling negotiations for the Butterfield 9 spot. Miller’s a pro; he’s been working in the restaurant world for 25 years. Neither he nor the landlord are naive about Donna’s history, Miller says, which includes the recent shuttering of Bebo Trattoria.
“Roberto went to culinary school,” Miller says, “not accounting school.”
Which is why one of the city’s signature toques will have a business partner this time around, someone to handle the financial side of the operation. Miller says the landlord is also structuring the deal “to set [Donna] up for success.” What that means, Miller adds, is that the landlord is willing to accept a lower rent to attract someone of Donna’s caliber.
In this economy, Miller says, it’s important that a restaurant can attract patrons, and despite his well-documented financial problems, Donna has a track record of bringing diners to the table. [Note: Y&H can only assume that most folks blame Bebo’s underwhelming performance on its location, not its operator.] The landlord has entered into this deal with his “eyes wide open,” Miller says.
The retail agent is hopeful that a deal will be signed within a week to 10 days. The restaurant, Miller says, will indeed be a resurrection of Galileo.
Photo by Charles Steck