The people of Washington shared a collective freak-out session on Friday when the Birch & Barley team revealed plans to open a fried chicken and doughnuts restaurant in Dupont Circle later this year. Well, Seasonal Pantry co-owner and future Top Chef contestant Dan O'Brien confirms to Eater that he has also been working on the idea and now is "pissed more than anything that it's a restaurant group" that will debut fried chicken and doughnuts in DC. That said, he may go ahead with the concept anyway:
Now I'm fired up to just say, "Fuck it. Let's do fried chicken and doughnuts every week and make it 20 times better than everyone else." It's the competitor in me. Fuck it. I'm so upset. It hurts that there's a bazillion things people can do. They're capitalizing on something that's going to be great for them.
O'Brien says he's already looked at four spaces — and of course Seasonal Pantry has already begun testing those fried chicken dinners — but he and business partner Ali Bagheri have been more focused on their forthcoming A&D Bar at the moment. Here now, O'Brien discusses what could perhaps become an all-out fried chicken war.
On what his version of fried chicken and doughnuts would look like: "You ever been to Taco Bell and KFC where it's all one? That's honestly what I wanted. I wanted to do the walk-in so it was like a doughnut shop on one side and a fried chicken joint on the other. [Pastry chef] Naomi [Gallego] is her own person and we share kitchen space so it's nice to be able to downsize your kitchen costs by sharing it with somebody."
On how he'll ultimately decide whether to go forward with the concept: "I think a lot of it depends on timing. I think a lot of it depends on money issues. If you do the financial structuring, oh I want to raise $75,000 to do fried chicken and you walk in the space and you're just like, it's not going to work. Fried chicken isn't going to work and the space is so cheap, it's like, fuck it, we've got to run with Concept B."
O'Brien is not just pissed at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group for having the same idea, but also: "I want our industry to become more friendly and I want to bring a lot of people together. I want to shit-talk on a lot of people, too, but I like 'em. ... I think that was the thing. It's not just Tiffany [MacIsaac] and Kyle [Bailey]. I don't even know them. I think it was the fact that I was around a couple other people from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group within the last two weeks that definitely knew about the idea and could have just been like, 'Hey man, heads up, just letting you know there's an idea going down and it's a lot like yours.'"
On one other thing he's pissed about: "Chicken and donuts was going to be my sellout. That was it. That was my paycheck. That's how I looked at it: "I'm going to make a fucking fortune off of it. I'm going to make a product I can stand behind. I don't have to be in the kitchen all the time and I can make money."
On whether his future Top Chef appearance might help: "Yes and no. I think any publicity is going to help. But if you remember a couple seasons ago when Tamesha was on from Oval Room? What happened to Tamesha? Where is she now? I love her dearly and I don't know what she wanted so I don't know if she wanted to try to get a restaurant. ... But I know that I'm not shutting down Seasonal. I'm not putting a team in place to cook and for me to sit there and watch. Yes, I think some of my value, my ability to get money will go up. But at the end of the day I'm not changing. I'm still the same guy that's going to be here cooking."
O'Brien says he knows of another concept in the works in Columbia Heights: "It's always great to have competition because there's always more than one. I just don't want it to turn into the next burger phase. I don't want there to be 20 of them."
So there you have it. If not a second fried chicken and doughnuts restaurant, at the very least Seasonal Pantry has got a lot more in store for DC.