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The Power and Passion Behind Chef Jamie Leeds

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The Power and Passion Behind Chef Jamie Leeds

Chef Jamie Leeds

(Photo by Ana Isabel Martinez Chamorro)

Whether in a chef’s coat or a smart blazer, Leeds looks approachable. Her big brown eyes and wry smile come to life when she is talking about the things she is passionate about: good food, good people, and good places.

With four locations and a catering arm, happy customers have been enjoying her signature ingredient-driven menus and seasonally inspired cocktails since 2005. Chef Jamie describes her style as “American, fresh and honest.”

Hank’s is a neighborhood joint, serving up coastal favorites and New England beach fare classics like clam chowder and griddled crab cakes. The atmosphere is breezy and relaxing, open and fresh.

She cultivates those values at home and work. Her restaurants are known as great places to work. In addition to good benefits, there’s an English-as-a-Second-Language program in place. #TeamHanks is well-known among charities and fundraisers for contributing cash, gift cards, and event support.

For Jamie Leeds and the Hank’s brand, family is everything. That’s who she is.

The Chef Emerges

So it was the summer in the early 80s when she serendipitously walked into her first commercial kitchen. She had no idea that job would take her to Union Square Cafe with Danny Meyer in New York and then to Washington, D.C. to lead the widely-heralded 15 ria in the Washington Terrace Hotel.

Eventually, she opened her very first restaurant, named after her father, in 2005. Hank’s Oyster Bar was open for business serving “urban beach food” with a family vibe. Today, the Jamie Leeds Restaurant Group is one of the most well-loved and well-respected local brands in the business.

Commitment and Community

Setting up her first shop (Hank’s Oyster Bar) in Dupont Circle was no happy accident. The historically gay neighborhood was important to Leeds as a gay woman. “I was able to work so hard and commit to this [business] because I’ve had so much support from the gay community. They lifted me up. It’s a great honor to be a part of that.”

She gives back through mentorship, serving on the board for the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and many in-kind donations to various causes.

Power to the People

There’s a lot to admire about the way Leeds has built her business. “I used the profits from each restaurant to build the next one.” She also cultivates brand loyalty and nurtures employee happiness.

One of her favorite ways to do that is with a pre-shift Family Meal for the staff, a tradition at all of her restaurants. “We all sit down and eat together,” she says. Her favorite thing to serve? Chicken Cacciatore. “It’s something my mother used to make.”

Her mother Mitzi is also the inspiration for her newest project Hank & Mitzi’s, opening Summer 2020.

Welcome to Hank & Mitzi’s

Guests can expect Prosecco on tap, zero-proof cocktails, and deck-oven pizzas from an exclusive recipe by executive chef, pizza-maker extraordinaire Will Artley. Hank & Mitzi’s opens this summer at 660 Montgomery Street in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

 

 

 

Rebecca Gunter
Rebecca Gunter
Rebecca Gunter is a port in the storm for high-achievement grown-ups juggling complicated lives. Connecting people in storytelling and survival strategies.