While Matchbox Food Group is mixed in a messy legal battle, a new owner is taking over Ted’s Bulletin. Steve Salis, a co-founder of &pizza who owns Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe and barbecue joint Federalist Pig, has acquired all five locations of the diner through his company, Salis Holdings. Already, he has big plans to freshen up and expand the brand.
“Ted’s Bulletin is a beloved brand in Washington, DC,” Salis says of what interested him in the restaurant. “It has a tremendous sense of place, extremely nostalgic.” When he arrived in DC in 2011, he recalls bringing friends and family to the Capitol Hill location anytime they visited. “There was just something about it that made you feel really, really good.”
At the same time, the brand has been “neglected for some period of time,” Salis says. “It’s been very static. I think it’s lost some of its spirit.” He says Matchbox Food Group grew the restaurant mini chain too quickly.
Salis already has some ideas for ways to improve it. For starters, he wants to reinvent and better integrate the beverage program, which he says has been “neglected” and “disassociated with the brand.” He’s also looking at ways to emphasize the walk-up counters where people can grab a quick coffee or pastry to go.
The menu and the bakery will get an upgrade, too. “It’s going to be a little bit more sophisticated, a little bit more grown-up,” Salis says. At the same time, “we need to go back to its spirit and soul.”
Salis plans to bring in a James Beard award-winning baker and pastry chef, but he declined to say who. Rest assured, Ted’s tarts (they can’t call them Pop-Tarts because of trademark issues) will remain.
In addition, Salis says the restaurants are too big. Most of the locations are around 5,500 square feet, although the Capitol Hill location is closer to 2,600. He feels the sweet spot is somewhere in between there.
That said, there are no plans to close existing locations, although he plans to tinker with them. You’ll see more changes as Ted’s Bulletin expands, with the first “2.0 prototype” aiming to open next year.
Salis says he’s looking for future Ted’s to be located in urban or denser suburban areas rather than, say, Gaithersburg. He also has an eye outside DC.
“There are many communities that need a Ted’s that go beyond the greater Washington, DC area,” he says.
Salis declined to share the sale price of Ted’s Bulletin. “Like in most deals, I think everyone had to give up a little bit to win, and I feel like we all did that,” he says. Private equity firm JPB Capital Partners sponsored the acquisition.
Meanwhile, current and former executives of Matchbox Food Group continue to be locked in lawsuits. According to the Washington Business Journal, the company started experiencing cash flow problems in 2016 after a big expansion push. In August, WBJ reports, co-founders and brothers Ty and Mark Neal, who are no longer actively involved in the company, sued Matchbox executives and investor Ron Paul, the CEO of EagleBank, for a conspiracy to oust them. Paul has said the case is “completely without merit,” and Matchbox has accused one of the owners of misappropriating company funds.