Not even a year into their new venture’s existence, Scott and Arianne Bennett have sold their share in M’Dawg Haute Dogs, which I wrote about in May, citing a difference of opinion with investors on how to operate the chef-driven dog and sausage shop in Adams Morgan.
“We’re just too different, like we come from completely different worlds, completely different perspectives,” says Arianne Bennett of M’Dawg investors Tony Gholam Reza Tabdili Azar and his son Amir Reza Tabdili Azar. “We don’t really see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. Most of it [has] nothing to do with the food. Most of it [has] to do with just basic business practices.”
“It became one of these things where you’re just banging your head against a wall. You really don’t like what they’re doing, and they really don’t like what you’re doing,” Bennett continues. “Instead of drown the restaurant, you just kind of go, ‘Okay, why don’t you run with it? Why don’t you do it and experience it and live it and love it and turn it into whatever you want it to be? And they said, ‘Okay.’”
The Bennetts sold their minority interest in M’Dawg to Tony and Amir Tabdili in August, after debating the issue during a two-week vacation to Jamaica in July. (Chef Greggory Hill remains a partner in M’Dawg.) For the couple, who also own the Amsterdam Falafelshop across the street, the decision boiled down to principle and, well, good karma. They didn’t really want to expand or alter their original upscale hot-dog concept, and they didn’t really want to fight daily with the investors.
The Bennetts, who controlled the front-of-the house operations, and the investors, who controlled the M’Dawg company, apparently disagreed on a number of issues, Bennett says. Tony Tabdili didn’t like the music in the restaurant and preferred to have employees in uniforms, she says, and he wanted to expand the menu and “maximize dollars per square foot of the location.” Many of the changes, Bennett adds, were apparently instigated by the investors who felt that M’Dawg wasn’t hitting its numbers, which she believes is normal for a start-up.
“It just sort began to move away a little bit from our original concept, which you noticed. It just wasn’t something that felt good to us,” Bennett says. “In some ways, Scott and I are just purists about, ‘This is what we want to offer.’ I mean, we’re about to start carrying fresh lemonade at the Falafelshop, but it’s been two and a half years of backing and forthing between us to figure out if we really want to add one more thing to our four-item menu, and that’s within our own family.”
The changes are already apparent at M’Dawg. There are fewer dog and sausage options, a fish-and-chips special has been added, poppy seed and whole-wheat buns are no longer available, and the toppings bar has been stripped of a number of condiments, including the great squeeze bottles filled with grape and blackcurrant mustards.
For her part, Arianne Bennett says she feels no disappointment about leaving the project behind. “It’s a strange feeling for me, but it wasn’t a disappointment,” she says. “The strange feeling comes from the fact that…this month is the first time in my [adult] life that I’ve not worked two jobs at one time.”
Part of her relief is due to the fact that she and her husband got out early. All four of the owners had developed, right from the start, an exit-plan strategy “if either…of us ever became dissatisfied,” Bennett says.
“The fact that we pulled ourselves out of there is what allows us to continue to be really good friends with them and to be supportive of them,” Bennett adds, “because we never got the point where we all hated each other.”
When contacted for his side of the story, Tony Tabdili asked, “What’s the purpose of knowing this? There was nothing important. We had a disagreement of the management, and we separated. That’s all.” When I backed off that part of the interview and asked about his future plans, Tabdili said he’d be happy to talk next week, after Adams Morgan Day, when M’Dawg will be hosting a hot-dog eating contest.