Food

Seven Reasons Is Gradually Hiring Back Employees and Letting Them Host Pop-Ups From Its Kitchen

A line cook at the 14th Street hotspot launches a Latin-style chicken burger concept today

Photograph of Seven Reasons by Jen Chase.
Coronavirus 2020

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Seven Reasons owner Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger started last week by laying off nearly the entire staff of his modern pan-Latin restaurant on 14th Street. Five employees stayed on to attempt a delivery operation. The first day wasn’t great: they sold about $1,000. But as the week progressed, business picked up. By Friday, they were slammed. The point-of-sale system they were using to take online orders didn’t allow them to set limits, so between 6 and 6:15 PM, around 300 orders rolled in.

“I was home. Our GM called me, he was like, ‘Close the system! Close the system! This is impossible! We can’t handle it anymore!,'” Vázquez-Ger says. “They were completely stressing out. It was a mess.”

The next day, after many, many apologies, they switched systems to Tock and started pacing orders like reservations. Saturday, they sold out, doing about $9,000 in sales. Still, Seven Reasons is only doing about half the business it was as a full-service restaurant (typically between $18,000 and $20,000 on weekend nights). But at a time when so many restaurants face total extinction and good news seems hard to come by, this is a success story.

It’s been enough that the restaurant has gradually hired people back. By Friday, they had 11 employees. This week, it’s up to 23 (though not everyone has the same number of hours they used to work). The entire kitchen team has returned, and some front-of-house staff are now delivery drivers. As a safety precaution, however, they never have more than 10 employees in the building at the same time.

Vázquez-Ger is finding other ways to help out his employees too. A while back, one of his line cooks, Wille Harner, had shown him an idea for his own business plan, and the restaurateur had been giving him advice. When the crisis hit, Harner came to Vázquez-Ger with the idea of launching his Latin-style chicken burger concept as a pop-up.

“I said, ‘Whoa, that’s an incredible idea,” Vázquez-Ger says. “You can use all of our resources. Of course we’re going to check the quality, and the quality is great.”

Soleado, meaning “Sunny” in Spanish, launched for lunch today (pick-up only to start). The menu, available for preorder here, includes three ground chicken burger options—all $8. The classic comes with wild greens, pickled red onions, and spicy yogurt sauce. There’s also an Asian-style sandwich with cabbage slaw and pickled cucumbers as well as a blackened version with Cajun spice. Add yuca fries or fried plantains on the side.

Seven Reasons has advanced Harner money for supplies, which he’ll pay back as he can. The line cook is also using two of his colleagues to help with his operation.

Soleado is the first in what Vázquez-Ger hopes will be a series of pop-ups run by employees or friends of the restaurant to help bring more people back to work.

“Everyone who has an idea at Seven Reasons, they can do it,” he says.

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.