On a humid afternoon in July, Tobias Dorzon looks around in awe at his soon-to-be, two-story oyster bar and lounge. He can hardly believe that in a few weeks time, this will be his. Managers and construction workers buzz around the building. A power drill goes off in the background.
“I slept here last night,” Dorzon says. “I literally went home to shower and came back. Just to say something is yours, it’s crazy.”
Dorzon, 33, is a former NFL player and personal chef to professional athletes. Soon, he’ll also be the chef and co-owner of the new Union Oyster Bar & Lounge, which will open near Union Market (501 Morse St., NE) the first week of September. The 4,000-square-foot restaurant will feature a range of oysters, seafood dishes, and brick-oven pizza. There will be plenty of liquor options between the whiskey bar, wine bar, and cocktails crafted by beverage manager Calvin Hines Jr., the former general manager of Art and Soul Restaurant.
Taking a page out of Old Ebbitt Grill’s book, the bar will host a late night happy hour, from 10 PM to 1 AM. He envisions a place with a “grown feel” where people can listen to a three-piece live band in the lounge, pair whiskey with a cigar, or feast on jerk sea bass and jumbo lump crab cakes.
Dorzon—whose birth name is Bloi-Dei but prefers his middle name, Tobias—is the owner of Victory Chefs, a private catering business. He also operates Victory Truck, a mobile eatery in DC and Maryland serving dishes like mac and cheese with deep-fried lobster tail and Hennessy French Toast.
Born and raised in Riverdale Park, Dorzon has followed a winding path marked by tragedy to reach his culinary career. In 2004, when Dorzon was 19, his older sister was murdered in North Carolina. Police found her body cut up and left in a bag in the trunk of her car. Her boyfriend at the time fled the country and hasn’t been seen since. It’s something Dorzon carries with him every day, literally—Watchee, his sister’s name, is tattooed on his forearm.
“She was my best friend,” he says, then pauses to gather himself. “It’s something I deal with emotionally every day. But I just use it for motivation. You’ve gotta keep the faith. God doesn’t put you in anything you can’t handle.”
In his younger years, Dorzon used that motivation for football. A running back at Jackson State University, Dorzon fractured his ankle during his first season in 2008. Determined to rise above his circumstances, he returned a year later to run for more than 800 total yards.
Dorzon entered the NFL as a free agent in 2010, and spent stints with the Tennessee Titans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2011, he was cut and picked up by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Canada.
“At that time, we didn’t have passports for my daughters, so I was getting homesick, missing my family,” he says. “It got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying football anymore. It turned into a job where I was like, I can’t do this.”
Dorzon decided it was time for a career change. As a hobby, he had spent his off seasons at The Art Institute of Washington’s culinary school. His father, a Liberian immigrant, spent 14 years running a West African restaurant called Kendejah on Georgia Avenue, where Dorzon worked as a kid. Thinking back to those days, he decided to enroll in culinary school full time.
After graduating, Dorzon landed cooking jobs at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown and the Society Restaurant & Lounge in Silver Spring. “At that time I really didn’t know my own worth,” he says. “I used to be working for pennies, working 20 hour days as an executive chef. It helped in a way—I learned what to do and what not to do in the restaurant industry. It’s when I told myself that one day, I would own my own restaurant.”
Late one night, Dorzon was scrolling through Instagram and noticed that former Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss had a few photos of food on his profile. Mentioning his new private chef company, Dorzon commented, “Hey man, you should try me out.” When he woke up the next morning, Moss had followed his account and asked for a demo. He drove to Moss’s house the next day and made roast chicken, broccolini, and sweet potatoes, which the Moss family loved. Moss floated the idea of hiring him as a personal chef.
“I was like, man, whenever you’re ready just let me know, cause I’m ready to start today,” Dorzon says. “When I got in the car, I could’ve punched a hole through my roof I was so excited.”
Within a week, Moss had already told Redskins players Trent Williams, DeSean Jackson, Chris Baker, and Kirk Cousins about Dorzon. They all wanted in, and as word spread, Dorzon’s business boomed. Last August, he went into partnership with one of his clients, Cleveland Browns’ Tyrod Taylor, and took his business on wheels. A year later, Dorzon teamed up with Russell Webster, who works in the music industry and is a fan of the Victory food truck, to bring Union Oyster Bar & Lounge to life.
“As a minority, you really don’t get these opportunities,” Dorzon says. “There are so many of us out here that do amazing things, but just don’t get the platform to actually present it.”
Dorzon offers some wise words for young black entrepreneurs and budding chefs: “Never let anybody put a cap on what you want to achieve. There are things we want to accomplish in life, things that we’re scared to chase because we think it might not get done because of our skin color. But nobody can rewrite the book that God already made for us.”
Even though his restaurant hasn’t even opened yet, Dorzon is already dreaming big. Really big. His next mission is to be on the cover of Food & Wine.
“You barely see black chefs on there, and we’re amazing,” he says. “I don’t like to look like the typical chef. I like wearing fitted hats, nice chef jackets, and Jordans in the kitchen. But I can do it with the best.”