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Member On the Menu: Richard Stewart, RAMMYS 2019 Manager of the Year Finalist

April 15, 2019

The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) presents Richard Stewart, General Manager and Director of Operation of Ristorante iRicchi. He is nominated for the Manager of the Year award for the 2019 RAMMY Awards Gala on June 30. The Manager of the Year award goes to a non-owner manager or general manager in the food service industry who displays the highest level of professionalism and leadership. This person must be an inspiration and mentor to all his/her co-workers displaying outstanding service, an excellent work ethic and a positive image.‚Äč

Name // Title // Bio  Richard Stewart, Director of Operations / General Manager Ristorante i Ricchi 
 
1989-2019   iRicchi General Manager
1985-1989   Stewart Design & Build Contractor 
Projects included: Design & build Ristorante i Ricchi, Washington, DC; Numerous commercial & residential projects (Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Tampa, Fl; Clearwater, Fl)
 
1971-1984   RMI - Restaurant Management Incorporated.
Restaurant Owner / Operator / Designer / Builder 
      PW’S Saloon, Washington, DC
      The Greenery Restaurants (2) WDC
      Rocky Raccoon’s Saloon & Tex-Mex Restaurant, WDC
      Paradise Café & Restaurant, WDC
      Whisker’s Saloon & Pub, WDC
      Jack’s Back Alley Raw Bar, WDC
      King’s Landing Restaurant, Alexandria, VA
 
What's the hardest part about being the GM of a restaurant? In retrospect, probably the most challenging part of managing and staffing a 150 seat, full-service restaurant over the past thirty years has been adapting to the changing business cycles in Washington. Not only must we plan for the usual annual seasonal changes in business volume, i.e.: slower summer months, busier convention & business travelers, Congressional sessions, etc., we have had to learn to adapt our business model to account for the drastic change in our neighborhood’s traffic and demographics. When we opened in 1989, DuPont Circle was a busy and vibrant neighborhood – heart of the Golden Triangle. Then about ten years ago, many professional firms left to open offices in the trendier, newer parts of the city. What ensued were several years of diminished tenancy and construction chaos that made traffic very difficult as the neighborhood underwent major rebuilding. We are told that is about to change again as many of those tenants who moved away are about to return to our “remodeled” neighborhood. In addition, we saw the crash of the financial markets which curtailed business travel and entertaining as well as an increase in competition as Washington has attracted many, many new restaurants. We have witnessed the influx of a younger cliental and a more health conscious consumer. All of this has meant we have had to stay much attuned to how the market is shifting and make changes accordingly.   
 
...and the most rewarding part? What has been the hardest part about being the GM also probably has been the most rewarding. Problem solving, adapting and recreating has led to the development of a solid business with longstanding and quality staff. It is the source of enormous pride.
 
How are you influenced by the neighborhood you are located in? You might call our neighborhood the business district. We are surrounded by professional offices, some hotels, very little residential and virtually no retail. Our cliental is made up primarily of professionals, staffers, business travelers, tourists and convention goers. We are closed on Saturdays for lunch and all-day Sundays because of the limited density outside of traditional office hours. Over the years we have adapted our indoor space to accommodate more private events and we have edited our menus to   appeal to current trends. We have improved and expanded our outdoor space to create a welcoming haven for the local community as well.   
 
How did you get started in the business? What was your first job in the industry & what did you learn from it? My first job was tending bar at the old Brickskeller Pub & Restaurant on 23rd St. It was an invaluable experience to work in a closely run family business where no detail was overlooked. A memorable example was how the owner, Maurice Coja would monitor waste. He would place an empty bucket under the drain in the draft box to monitor the beer run-off and lock the doors. If, at the end of your shift, the bucket was full, you were suspended! It taught me the importance of monitoring every penny and paying close attention to all costs.
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Where do you see yourself in five years? I most certainly will be working with i Ricchi on a potential expansion program.
 
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given? As an athlete in school I was exposed to competition and learned at an early age to persevere through the difficult times and to never give up – certainly a necessary attribute in the restaurant business.
 
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I have been fortunate to have experienced two fields in my career - one is designing and building restaurants and the other is operating and managing them. After many years in the business I can say I have found a way to combine them both to do something I truly love.  
 
What is your favorite ingredient? Working at i Ricchi, I have been introduced to the benefit of using fresh herbs to enhance the flavor of foods – and I learned that not all herbs are alike. One of the mainstays of Tuscan cooking is rosemary. Over the years we have experimented with several varieties and I particularly love the pungent aroma of the rustic, twiggy rosemary from Mexico.
 
What insider foodie tip do you have for diners? My insider tip to today’s diners is to communicate with your server and restaurant management. The staff is there to insure you have a quality experience. If something is not right, bring it to their attention immediately in a way they can resolve the issue. Though it may feel good to let off steam in front of an anonymous computer screen after the fact, it will do nothing to alter your experience. Most people working in our industry are dedicated and serious about offering their customers the best they possibly can. Inversely, give credit where credit is due – when you have a good experience, take the time to let the staff know you appreciate their efforts. That is what we live for!
 
You're hosting a dream dinner party. What three people would be at your table? Eric Clapton, John Prine and Antoni Gaudi
 
It's the last meal of your life - what's on your plate? My last meal would probably be i Ricchi’s “Filetto alla Zingara” – prime beef filet with tomato, mushrooms, peppers and truffles!     
 
What are your pet peeves? I can’t stand rude, self consumed and inconsiderate people. 
 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community? Operating a small independent restaurant gives us many ways to easily interact with and give back to the community. We are continually opening our space to numerous philanthropic fundraisers, hosting pop ups, receptions and diners. We started various women’s initiatives to create a space where women can feel comfortable dining, networking, conducting business or simply having fun. We are very creative in the ways we bring community together by offering literary, fine art, music, fashion, wine and food events at affordable prices.

Why do you love working in restaurants? I love working in restaurants because it is ever changing, challenging and can be intensely rewarding. Plus, good food, good wine and good people……what could be better!