As Covid-19 vaccines become more widely available, mega grocery chains like Trader Joe’s and Aldi are offering employees financial incentives to get vaccinated. Knead Hospitality + Design, one of DC’s fastest growing hospitality companies, will be the first local restaurant group to follow suit. Knead, which currently operates Mi Vida, Succotash National Harbor and Penn Quarter, the Grill, and Mah Ze Dahr DC , will give its 320-plus employees paid time off or four hours of pay to get the vaccine.
“It’s just the right thing to do. You have employees who have to choose between going to work and making money and their health,” says Knead cofounder, Jason Berry. “Even if you’re strictly looking at it from a business perspective, not an ethical one, you’ll spend less money keeping your employees healthy than, say, closing a section of your restaurant because an employee gets sick.”
Berry and fellow cofounder Michael Reginbogin say the group is working closely with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington for updates on when vaccines will be available for essential workers in the District, and National Harbor where Succotash is located (the current estimate is early February for DC). Under Knead’s plan, tipped employees and hourly staff will get four hours of minimum wage or higher (around $60 to $80), while salaried staff will get a bonus day of paid time off.
While restaurants are shuttering across the country, Knead plans to double its footprint this year. Its expansion will come from a combination of growing current brands, like Dupont’s forthcoming Lil’ Succotash burger and sandwich shop with chef Ed Lee, and developing and growing partnerships, such as two new locations of New York City-based Mah Ze Dahr bakery at National Landing and in Dupont. The latter neighborhood is where Knead is focusing much of its energy, with five restaurants slated to open by May. That list includes two Mexican concepts—Tu Taco and Tex-Mex spot Mi Casa—with Knead culinary director Roberto Santibañez, plus a pizza joint, Kneadza Pizza.
Two new waterfront restaurants are also slated for spring and summer: Gatsby, a huge contemporary American diner steps from Nationals Park in Navy Yard, and a yet-to-be-named French bistro at the Wharf. The group also plans to reopen and revamp Succotash Penn Quarter, which closed during the pandemic. By the summer, Reginbogin and Berry estimate they’ll have close to 800 employees—and they hope all will take up the financial offer for vaccinations, and that other business owners will follow suit.
“We’re not going to force anyone if there are ethical issues or religious issues,” says Berry. “There are some people who are vaccine hesitant. But hopefully what we’re doing is a nice way to pressure them. Our industry needs to get out there and tell guests we’re taking vaccinations seriously. It’s a great way to get people back in restaurants. We’re all in this together and we need to move fast.”