Of all the chefs who have put Washington, D.C., on the national restaurant map, José Andrés is perhaps the most celebrated. The James Beard Award–winning chef is the head of ThinkFoodGroup, an umbrella that encompasses more than a dozen fine-dining restaurants in D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
In 2015, ThinkFoodGroup added another brand to its portfolio that was just a little bit different from the rest: Beefsteak. The concept is Andrés’ first fast-casual venture and, in announcing the vegetable-forward concept via online video early last year, he said he wanted to change the way the world ate through Beefsteak.
Fast Casual 2.0 brands that are helping turn Washington, D.C., into a new capital of restaurant innovation.
“On our end, as a restaurateur, we have to change demand. If America’s going to eat more vegetables, we’re going to have to not make them want it, but get them to want it,” says Pat Peterson, Beefsteak’s executive chef.
“It’s quality food that happens to be vegetables,” adds Jim Biafore, Beefsteak’s director of operations. “And that makes a difference in the folks who come in to our restaurants. It’s hot, it’s hearty, it’s very satisfying, and when you’re done, you’re going to be full.”
Peterson and Biafore sit at a high-top table in Beefsteak’s second location, in the heart of D.C.’s popular Dupont Circle neighborhood. Natural lighting spills into the space, illuminating a creative yet cozy dining room that is busy even a few hours after lunch rush. Hues of blue and brown offer a fresh take on the fast-casual setting—especially one whose menu is based on vegetables—but it’s what’s scrawled across many of the walls that really lends Beefsteak its personality. Vegetable cartoon characters, a whole world of them, dance across the walls, a creative atmosphere that gives life to the idea that vegetables can be fun.
The ordering process lends to that idea, as well. Customers can either order a signature item (in the fall, a Beefsteak Burger with a slice of tomato in place of the meat patty was available; today, it's a BEETsteak Sandwich with marinated beet, pickled red onion, sprouts, and romaine on an olive oil brioche bun), or design their own bowl, choosing from among dozens of vegetables, toppings, and sauces, all of which is piled onto a grain base. Guests watch as their vegetables are blanched in front of them and the bowls assembled.
Peterson and Biafore are relatively new to ThinkFoodGroup; both have multiunit restaurant experience and were brought on to help scale the Beefsteak business. They talk of building a supply chain that can sustain a concept designed around fresh vegetables; they talk, too, of positioning the brand in an increasingly crowded fast-casual market, using transparency, culture, and a unique product to grab consumers’ attention.
The Beefsteak team is already revving up growth and eyeing a national presence. And D.C., they say, is the perfect market for incubating the concept and learning just what they’ve got in Beefsteak.
“The people who are interested in our brand—whether it be from a consumer perspective or an investment perspective—are interested in their brands as well,” Peterson says of other fast-casual brands in D.C. “There’s a lot of that small community here that we benefit from.”
Image Credit: Rey Lopez