When disaster strikes, José Andrés is often the first to respond. The chef-humanitarian typically acts through his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen. But when Reverie chef/owner Johnny Spero suffered a devastating fire at his Georgetown restaurant in August, Andrés placed a personal call—from (where else?) Ukraine, where WCK is leading refugee relief efforts.
“José is saving the world, but somehow has time to make sure I was okay,” says Spero, who served as head chef at Minibar for over two years. “We’ve always stayed in touch. He was asking about my bills and if my family was okay—he understands the human element of all of this.”
Spero says he was most concerned about his staff—for their financial livelihoods, but also for their professional lives. Spero fought hard to keep his restaurant open and his staff employed through the pandemic, which was no small feat for a modernist, fine-dining destination tucked away in an alley. Three months before the fire, the place received its first Michelin star, nearly four years in the making. On the call with Andrés, Spero says the idea for a collaboration quickly formed—a solution that temporarily employs Reverie’s kitchen team, while also giving them a place to grow professionally.
“Working beside a two-Michelin star kitchen team is really inspiring, and it’s a team and family I have a lot of respect for,” says Spero, who left Minibar in 2015 to stage at Mugaritz in Spain. “This is not time to stop working, it’s time to push and grow.”
Four full-time Reverie employees—including head chef Rowley Harvey—will work with the Minibar crew on a special joint menu launching Wednesday, October 5*. Newly anointed Minibar head chef Sarah Ravitz will lead the home team. Spero himself will bounce back-and-forth between the tasting room and his soon-to-open downtown DC restaurant, Bar Spero (which is also absorbing Reverie staff). Tickets go on sale this Friday, September 9 for the multi-course dinners—they are priced at $350 per person, with $25 from each sale directly supporting Reverie. Spero says he doesn’t expect the restaurant to reopen this year.
The Minibar collaboration is one of several Reverie-support efforts in the tight-knit DC hospitality industry, where Spero, a Maryland native, has bounced around since starting his career at age 16. A GoFundMe has raised over $58,000 which—like the Minibar collab—largely goes to support employees who aren’t covered by fire insurance.
“We are one restaurant family here in DC—one big kitchen—here for each other in good times and times of need,” Andrés says. “Johnny is like a brother and will always have a home at Minibar. I’m so proud to welcome him and his chefs to continue cooking their amazing food alongside the Minibar team.”
*Correction: the original version of this post stated that the collaboration dinners would begin Friday, October 7. They’ll start Wednesday, October 5.