The Behind-the-Scenes Players to Know in Washington’s Restaurant Industry

Who's shaping the dining landscape beyond front-and-center chefs.

The brothers behind Rappahannock Oyster Co. brought Chesapeake oysters to Washington foodies. Illustration of Travis and Ryan Croxton by Dennis Eriksson. Photograph of oysters by Scott Suchman.

Travis and Ryan Croxton

Cofounders, Rappahannock Oyster Co.

How you know them: Travis and cousin Ryan established their Virginia oyster farm 12 years ago, and now their Olde Salts and Stingrays are served all over town—including at Le Diplomate, Hank’s Oyster Bar, and their own Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Union Market. They also ship 150,000 a week to restaurants around the world.

Mission accomplished: “Ten years ago, it was a struggle to find a Chesapeake oyster on a menu, even in DC,” says Travis, whose original goal was to put the long-forgotten Bay bivalve back on the map. “Now menus celebrate it.”

Consider the clam: There’s a growing interest in the company’s clams (it sells 20,000 a week), and the attention is deserved: The briny, meaty Olde Salts are among the best we’ve tasted. Get them to go at Rappahannock Oyster Bar.

Ambrose is a bartender at W Hotel’s POV lounge. Illustration by Dennis Eriksson.

Joe Ambrose

Cofounder, Favourite Ice

How you know him: Ambrose, a bartender at the W Hotel’s POV lounge, is also responsible for that stunningly clear, slow-melting cube in your glass at places like Bourbon Steak, Barmini, and Range.

Breaking in: The two-year-old artisanal-ice business, the first of its kind in Washington, began when Ambrose and cofounder Owen Thomson worked at Jaleo. “They were cutting ice under the restaurant with chain saws, and we knew how to do it more efficiently,” Ambrose says.

The other ice man: Employee Caleb “the Eskimo” Marindin is the guy who actually hews the massive 300-pound blocks of clarified ice into the smaller 25-pound chunks transported to bars.

Eisendrath’s wood-fired grills makes magic happen at restaurants like the Red Hen. Illustration by Dennis Eriksson. Photograph of Red Hen’s chicken dish by Scott Suchman.

Ben Eisendrath

President, Grillworks

How you know him: Ever wonder why the Red Hen in DC’s Bloomingdale smells so deliciously smoky? The reason is Eisendrath’s wood-fired grills, custom-made for each restaurant and considered the Ferraris of their kind by a national range of chefs.

Why wood? “Charcoal doesn’t provide much of its own flavor,” says Eisendrath. “If you use whole pieces of wood, there’s moisture that tastes like the type you’re using.”

Top of the DC line: A $20,000 contraption for the downtown DC steakhouse Rural Society—it boasts three grills, rotisseries, and catch pans for trapping all the meat’s juices.

Kendricks specially designs tableware for Fiola. Illustration by Dennis Eriksson. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Amber Kendrick

Owner, Cloud Terre

How you know her: Kendrick’s Arlington studio crafts minimalist-cool ceramic tableware specially designed for restaurants like Patowmack Farm and Fiola.

On her own table: The organic bowl from the Ashby Inn line (available at “You can put anything in and it just sings.”

Up next: Working with former Ashby Inn & Restaurant manager Neal Wavra on a new farm-to-table restaurant in Marshall, Virginia. Kendrick is collaborating on everything from architectural design to lighting and plates.

Towles created the mural behind Toki Underground’s bar. Illustration by Dennis Eriksson. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Kelly Towles


How you know him: Towles’s engaging murals line the walls at such spots as Right Proper Brewing Company and Graffiato—where he depicted a pack of “food bandits” coming in to loot the restaurant—and he has designed bottles for DC Brau.

Lost art: One of Towles’s favorite restaurant projects, a mural for Toki Underground, is mostly covered up by the bar. (You can see patches of the painting peeking through.) Still, he says the effect was intentional: “The design was inspired by love for old graffiti in alleys and on walls—the layers.”

Pretty plates: Towles particularly loves the artful plating at Izakaya Seki. “All the food has a very simple elegance, which is not easy to do. There’s a veggie dish with bonito flakes that just dances.”

This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Washingtonian.