Estadio Splits from Doi Moi and Proof, Expands to Charleston

Owner Max Kuller is taking the Spanish spot in new directions.

Chef Rufino Bautista of Estadio. Photograph by Scott Suchman

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Slushitos are heading south as Estadio will expand for the first time in its eight year run. Owner Max Kuller will open a smaller version of the stellar 14th Street Spanish spot in Charleston, South Carolina along with members of the DC restaurant’s opening team, chef Rufino Bautista and barman Adam Bernbach. (The Post and Courier reports that Charleston chef Alex Lira will helm the kitchen.) An opening is slated for this winter. 

The decision to expand has been slow and deliberate, says Kuller. It’s also partly why he recently split from uncle Jason Kuller’s hospitality group, Fat Baby Inc., which will continue to run veteran restaurant Proof in Penn Quarter and Vietnamese eatery Doi Moi on 14th Street. All three restaurants were conceived by restaurateur Mark Kuller (Max’s father), who died from cancer in 2014. 

“We want all our restaurants to do well. They’re all my dad’s legacy, and we decided to reorganize in a way that we can focus on the things we’re passionate about,” says Max, who launched his industry career at the Spanish spot, working his way up from a server to wine director. “Estadio is the pride of the group for me.”

Kuller has had multiple opportunities to grow the restaurant, including in the early days, when his father was interested in opening a branch in Clarendon. 

“I was the biggest voice against it because we didn’t want to dilute it,” says Kuller. “It’s like, hey, if someone wants to come to our restaurant, we’re not that far away. We want to have all our passion here.”

He says his benchmark for expansion has been places he wants to spend time and energy. If—and big if—there’s a third Estadio, you might find it in his college town of Rhode Island or Brooklyn. Charleston’s reputation as an established food town was a draw for Kuller as was its lack of Spanish tapas spots.

As for Estadio DC, no radical changes are in the works, though gin lovers will find new reasons to frequent the bar. Part of the company’s reorganization means Bernbach, who previously helmed neighboring cocktail bar 2 Birds 1 Stone, is devoting more time to growing Estadio’s beverage program—especially rare and vintage gins procured on frequent trips to Spain. 

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.