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An Overhaul in the Quench Kitchen

Never a dull moment at the self-described “modern, urban bar and restaurant” in Rockville.

The lounge at Quench. Photograph by Dakota Fine.

It was two days before Christmas that Evan Griffin learned from his coworkers at Quench that he was being let go from his executive chef role at the Rockville restaurant and bar. He confronted owner Michael Holstein, says Griffin, who told him the decision was “strictly financial. ‘I have a group of people who want to run the kitchen as if it were their own business,’” Griffin recalls Holstein saying. Along with Griffin, Holstein dismissed sous chef Brandon Shapiro and the restaurant’s pastry chef, Kelly Johnson.

Taking over the kitchen is Wade Hoo Fatt, formerly of Todd Grays Equinox and Watershed. Fatt will also be a partner in the restaurant, says Holstein. While the first-time restaurateur praises Griffins cooking prowess, he says he was looking for a toque who could help him develop a catering program and create a “more universal” menu that would translate to other markets—Holstein says he is in talks with a Las Vegas casino to bring a Quench concept to that city, and he has also explored opportunities in Northern Virginia. With his substantial catering experience—Fatt is a vet of famed local caterer Susan Gage—the new chef is “well-suited to helm the ship,” says Holstein.

When Quench originally debuted in March 2012, the idea was to bring the sort of cocktail bar and restaurant you would find in the city to the Rockville suburbs. While Holstein says that remains the mission, Griffin claims his boss kept “requesting menu items that you would find on an Applebee’s menu, like protein-based salads with boneless skinless chicken breast.” He says he and Holstein butted heads as the “concept got watered down.” These comments echo those of Steve Oshana—the original beverage manager, dismissed a week after the opening. Original head chef Richard Gunter was dismissed in July. “No slight to Rich, but Evan’s vision was much more in line with what our customers want,” Holstein told us at the time.

Joining Fatt in the kitchen is chef de cuisine Chris Mack, formerly of Policy. Holstein says he is also partnering with Todd and Ellen Gray on a cocktail catering project. Holstein shared this working version of Quench’s new menu.

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  • Lyndar670

    I agree with NAZ. This area is rife with empty nesters and disposable incomes. Try getting a reservation at Matchbox, Chef Geoff's, or The Grilled Oyster Co. on a Sat..night...not happening!! These are urban, energetic bar, and foodie friendly menu's geared towards keeping residents up county from Bethesda & DC. I tried Quench in it's original form and wasn't impressed..but now I am excited to see what the transformed kitchen will deliver. Good Luck and see you soon!! FYI..CAVA has managed to deliver a great "adult" geared experience for several years..right across the street..hope you guys can too!!

  • Naz

    I'm a bonafied city girl from NYC so I can appreciate the original concept Quench had and appreciate not having to drive into DC for an adult hangout that's trendy & unique. I've been to Quench a few times, and I've never seen children there, and am surprised that the community has requested more "family friendly" joints which are readily available in the Rockville/Gaithersburg area. Especially now, the Rockville area is becoming a bit posh, additions such as Matchbox, Founding Farmers, and Chef Geoffs has put the creative menu/adult hangout places on the map. Not that these area's are not kid-friendly, but they are usually packed because they are geared for young (and young hearted) & hip places for adults to be. I'm a bit disappointed that when there are so many family appropriate restaurants in the area, people have requested that Quench adapt to the existing culture. I understand that the restaurant business is hard and it needs to react to it's customer base and do what it needs to do to survive, but I hope this shift does not alter the creativity and difference Quench has brought to the "suburbs". Some of our favorite dishes such as the Matzo Ball Soup have since been removed from the menu never to return again. I hope the new menu additions and cocktails keep Quench creative, trendy, and exemplary for other restaurants to venture into different concepts for the suburbs.

  • Not to worry Naz - we're still for adults, but at the same time, child-friendly when families We'll remain creative and cool (see the new menu) and the Matzo Ball soup IS coming back this winter!

  • Changing staff is never easy, but neither is it rare in this business. We were lucky enough to acquire an extremely talented Chef/Partner in Wade, who is confident enough to adapt our menu to what the community requested, and who has the business savvy to help us grow. Not to mention that as we go into to the cocktail catering business with Equinox, this was a very natural fit. Bringing in Chris, who is from the neighborhood and trained at L'Academie (in our backyard) was a coup, as his experience working at Roy's in Hawaii and under Chefs RJ Cooper and Bryan Voltaggio has instilled in him a fantastic and creative palette, and a huge local fan base. Most of the new menu items are his.

    Please look at our menu and judge for yourself if this "looks like Applebees." Our mission is to serve our community, and after 6 months, we now have a good handle on what they are looking for. We reject the snobbery that doesn't allow for a "protien-based salad." We exist to serve our customers, not to tell them what's cool to eat. Further to the point, our cocktail program has not changed at all, we've received accolades from Zagats, CBS and this publication and there is significant interest in both building us new restaurants and greatly expanding Matt Allred's beverage program. Quench has evolved and improved - it has not changed or been watered down.

    Early feedback on both the menu additions and quality of the food is fantastic, and we couldn't be happier than to have Wade and Chris run our kitchen, carry out our concept and help us step to the next level. We wish Evan luck.

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