Baker’s Daughter. 1065 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Chef Matt Baker, behind Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant Gravitas, opens the third location of his fast-casual cafe Baker’s Daughter today. The new outpost in Georgetown offers a similar menu to its sister spots in Ivy City and the Eaton Hotel in downtown DC. Expect coffee, pastries, grab-and-go salads, and sandwiches, including Baker’s popular bacon-egg-and-cheese and breakfast burritos inspired by his Houston upbringing.
The restaurant will have two sandwiches just for Georgetown: a croissant croque madame as well as the “Hoya Club” with ham, turkey, bacon, and white cheddar on a toasted croissant.
Baker also operates French-American brasserie Michele’s in downtown DC in addition to tasting-menu spot Gravitas in Ivy City. But he says it’s only the quick-service concept he’s considering expanding now, especially in the wake of Initiative 82. The DC law, passed last November, phases out the tip credit that businesses can use to subsidize base wages for tipped employees like servers and bartenders.
Baker says Baker’s Daughter is the least affected by Initiative 82 because employees are already making at least $17 an hour. In the past, he’s aimed for his labor costs to sit below 35-percent of his operating costs “in order to be a successful restaurant.” But now, he says labor costs hover around 45-percent at Michele’s and Gravitas. By contrast, he says Baker’s Daughter has less than 20-percent labor costs.
Baker says the changes have also upended other “old-school” rules of thumb for operating a restaurant. For example, he says he’s previously looked for “occupancy costs”—rent, real estate taxes—to sit at 10 to 12-percent for the restaurant to be profitable. “In my opinion, because of the increased wages, you really need to sit more at sub-8-percent occupancy costs,” he says. “Unfortunately, you have some landlords that don’t recognize that yet.”
With a tasting menu, Baker says there’s more flexibility to adjust prices to try to stay profitable. Gravitas was previously offering a five-course tasting menu for $150, but in the spring it switched to two options: four courses for $130 0r six for $180. But for a place like Michele’s serving steak frites and heirloom-tomato linguini, Baker says there’s a threshold of what people are willing to pay, and that’s where he’s felt the biggest pinch. “Unfortunately, Michele’s has lost a lot of money this year. And so myself and our investors had to cover the costs for that,” he says.
Baker says he’ll likely move to a service fee model eventually, but he’s been hesitant to do so after witnessing the backlash and confusion it’s created elsewhere. “I don’t want to be at the front of this. I’d rather be at the back of the line on this,” Baker says. “I’d rather not have to rather not be the first person to have to educate [diners] on it and deal with potential contention from them.”
Baker still has a Mediterranean wine bar called Non Se coming to the Union Market area, where he’s considering QR codes or only ordering at the bar. He’s also looking to take Baker’s Daughter to the Virginia or Maryland suburbs.
“I’m not looking at anything else for a full-service restaurant in DC,” he says. “I’m kind of sitting on my hands right now and just seeing how this all plays out.”
Correction: Matt Baker’s forthcoming wine bar will be called Non Se, not Nonse.