This Fine-Dining Restaurant Is Stalking Your Dog on Instagram

Michelin-starred Jônt personalizes treats and toys for pet-owning diners.

Aussies Brick and Roquefort are very good dogs. Photograph by David Horton @DavideatsDC.

It’s not unusual for fine-dining restaurants to do online reconnaissance on guests and collect intel about their likes and dislikes. But the team at Michelin-starred Jônt on 14th Street is also diving into diners’ Instagram feeds to ascertain one very specific bit of information: do they have a very good dog? 

Pet parents who throw down for the $375 tasting menu may be surprised by gourmet treats—and occasionally even bespoke toys—for their fur babies as a parting gift (literal doggy bags, if you will). Chef/owner Ryan Ratino has his own “crazy spoiled” rescue pitbull named Amelia, and he makes pup treats using chicken and duck liver (paw gras?) and other food scraps—seasonal, of course—that might otherwise go to waste. Don’t worry, cats get special treatment too with bluefin-tuna-and-chickpea snacks. The treats come in various shapes, including, of course, Michelin stars. The kitchen’s pet-friendly version of madeleines—its signature sweet—are still in R&D.

Hospitality director Nitiya Sin creates labels that say “snackies for a very good dogs” with images of the pets, if she’s able to find them online. For some regulars, Sin goes even further with “Jônty Boxes,” inspired by the BarkBox subscription she gets for her rescue beagle mix, Franconia Cricket Notch Kenton. Sometimes she’ll include other goodies too: hand-stitched felt mallard duck toys for doggos or hand-wrapped yarn balls with catnip inside for the kitties. Once, she boxed up carrot tops with a fancy bow for a VIP bunny. She’s yet to settle on the right gift for a regular’s ferrets.

Some regulars get a BarkBox-inspired Jônty Box. Photograph by Nitiya Sin.

The first step to customizing these little surprises is some light internet stalking. Some diners make it easy—they have entire Instagram accounts devoted to their pets. Others might have a photo of their corgi in their Tock reservation profile. In some cases, though, Sin might not suss out the pet people until they’re in the dining room, where she might spot a French bulldog on their phone cover or casually discover their love of golden retrievers in conversation. In that case, personalization is still no problem: “I literally have 16 different boxes with 16 different breeds. So that ‘Oh, you have a chihuahua? Fantastic.’ I have this chihuahua box all ready to go.”

The 16-seat restaurant gives out pet treats at least a dozen times a week now. “We have an incredible hospitality service team that really tries to get to know every single guest in a very organic way. And because I am just obsessed with dogs, I am always like, ‘Do you know if they have a dog?’ I think I’ve accidentally trained everyone to ask or figure it out,” Sin says.

Some diners have caught on—and now request the doggy treats in advance. “They’ll literally tell me, you know, this is this maltipoo’s Instagram handle,” Sin says. “Then I’ll go ahead and do it.”

For Sin, who previously worked for other fine-dining institutions including Per Se in New York and José Andrés’s Minibar, personalizing diners’ experiences goes far beyond the dog park crowd. Armed with a hot glue gun—”my favorite thing”—she has her own craft corner in the restaurant’s office full of supplies for making magic of all kinds.

For one couple that brings in their young son, she prepares fact cards about dinosaurs—his favorite subject. For a visiting chef who loves Legos, she made a mignardises plate out of the building blocks with the name of her restaurant. For one guest’s proposal, she constructed a flashing sign that said “Marry Me.” Other little extras might include a favorite cocktail bottled up to-go, caviar and eggs packed up for the next morning, or a sparkling water pairing with eight bottles from around the world for a diner who doesn’t drink wine. One time, Jônt sent some out-of-town guests back to their hotel in their limo with a late-night pizza from Manny & Olga’s—except this one was showered in white truffles.

Perhaps it’s not surprising to know that Sin considers herself an “Adult Disney Nerd” who once aspired to be an Imagineer.

“I went to Disneyland, and I wore this pin that said ‘it’s my birthday,’ and everyone made me feel super special. They had no idea who I was, but every single cast member is able to activate you in a way that makes you feel like this whole day is for you,” Sin says. “I guess I’ve always wanted to recreate that.”

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.