What if you could judge every new restaurant by their roast chicken? There may be no better barometer for what’s to come. The rotisserie bird on the dinner menu at The Duck & The Peach, which opened steps from Eastern Market in December, has skin that snaps, moist meat, and flavors of wild oregano and sumac. It tells the story of what restaurateur Hollis Silverman is trying to accomplish. She wants customers to feel like they’re at a dinner party. Meals, she says, should be “a little nicer than what you would do at home” but simple enough that the dishes “could inspire you.”
Silverman is the former chief operating officer of José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup. She never thought she’d open a restaurant of her own but then she heard about the redevelopment of Hine Junior High School four blocks from where she lives with her two children. The space on the ground floor of the former school didn’t call for one restaurant. It called for two restaurants and a gin bar.
After you walk through The Duck & The Peach, which doubles as a daytime cafe, you wind through a hallway to get to La Collina. That where Silverman wants diners to let loose over Italian food. The vibe she’s going for down the line breaks all the rules customers learned to follow during the pandemic.
“You walk in and it’s crowded in a good way and it’s loud,” she says. The first thing you see is a rainbow of selections at an antipasti bar. “You pull a chair from over here and a table from over there … Everybody’s there. Kids and your loud cranky neighbor.” She promises “nothing stuffy or pretentious.” Drinks, she jokes, will be “red, white, or beer.”
Completing the trio is a reservations-only gin bar dubbed The Wells. It’s painted a rich jungle green and the polished finishes make it feel like the sort of place you’d try to woo someone. “I just love gin and tonics,” Silverman says. She imagines people sitting down to a couple drinks paired with “bites, spoons, and skewers.” Phillip Keath and Ashley Havens are behind the drinks at all three spots.
Both La Collina and The Wells have yet to open, but Silverman recently tapped Kat Petonito to serve as the executive chef of all three concepts that share a kitchen. Petonito, who’s 29, most recently cooked at St. Anselm near Union Market under her mentor Marjorie Meek-Bradley. She also previously served as the chef de cuisine at Kapnos Kouzina in Bethesda before it closed along with the rest of Mike Isabella’s restaurants.
Petonito’s mother is Filipino and her father is Italian, two cultures that love to feed people and feed them well. “We’ll do some tributes to my mom and her culture at The Wells,” she says. Think lumpia and other street food-inspired bar bites. The Duck & The Peach excites her because of the limitless possibilities of a modern American menu. Then there’s La Collina. “I grew up eating pasta and shaping it. Basically this place screams me.”
But there’s more that attracted Petonito to the project. “Hollis is amazing,” the chef says. “She wants to create this living wage utopia of a restaurant that is everything I ever dreamed of being a part of. She’s creating something you can be proud of.”
Silverman explains that she plans to include a 22 percent “service and equity fee” on checks. Diners are welcome to add additional tip on top. “But we have a pay rate where we’re working up to 50 hours per week for people who want it. We pay between $17 and $22 an hour. At 50 hours, that gets people to a pretty decent living wage.” (Doing the simplest math, an employee who makes $20 an hour working 50 hours a week earns $52,000 a year before tips.)
“It creates more of a balance between the kitchen and the service staff,” Silverman continues. “It’s not for everyone. It’s not what people are used to, but I think it’ll create a better way. We’re trying it out. It’s important to give that stability to people.” The restaurants will also foot the bill for 50 percent of health, dental, and vision coverage for staff who stick around for more than 90 days.
“The pandemic opened a lot of people’s eyes into how toxic our industry was,” Petonito adds. “It’s nice to see people like Hollis are opening businesses that are trying to turn the corner and create a better work environment.”
Petonito’s cooking centers around the seasons and local sourcing. “We’re trying to elevate ingredients,” she says. “I don’t like doing all the manipulations. You lose the specialness of the ingredient.”
Don’t skip the toast with sheep’s ricotta and house-made jam starring the first berries of the season on your first visit to The Duck & The Peach. There’s an expansive patio for outdoor dining and food and drink are available for pick-up too. The opening timeline for La Collina and The Wells is still being determined.
The Duck & The Peach, 300 7th St. SE; (202) 431-1913; duckandpeachdc.com
La Collina, 747 C St. SE; lacollinadc.com
The Wells, thewellsdc.com