Welcome back to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
Sherman Outhouk at Thally [Photo: R. Lopez]
For Sherman Outhouk, Ron Tanaka and Paolo Sacco, Thally is not their first rodeo. Before launching the modern American restaurant on Shaw's 9th Street, co-owner Outhouk was a managing partner at Ristorante Posto in Logan Circle and had a history with Passion Food Hospitality. Thally's chef and second co-owner, Ron Tanaka, honed his culinary chops in the kitchens of Palena and CityZen at the Mandarin Hotel before becoming Cork's executive chef. From Logan Circle, Chef Tanaka traveled to Woodley Park's New Heights before opening Thally a few blocks from his own abode. And Thally's third co-owner Paolo Sacco has more than two decades of experience to his name, including owning Ristorante Tosca.
They may not be novices, but there is still a learning curve when getting a new restaurant off the ground. There are people to manage, menus to update and permits to file. Outhouk talks about stress, friendship, paperwork woes and rough winters in this edition of One Year In.
The website describes Thally as a "the brainchild of two good friends". Are you and Chef Ron Tanaka still good friends?
Yeah, we're still friends.
Your friendship hasn't been strained from the last year?
There's been some yelling, but it's just part of the experience. He and I are both new at doing a running a restaurant ourselves, and it's a lot of stress to manage. When you take what you've normally done in the restaurant business — I was a bartender for a long time — and you throw in a million other things that you now have to do, there hasn't been a day in the last year that I haven't been stressed.
Has it gotten easier?
Nope, not yet. I don't think it gets easier until all the systems are in place. Until you master everything: the accounting, the payroll, the labor, the ordering, the purveyors, the employees, until that is all figured out, it won't get easier. Hiring employees is a skill I learned I'm not very good at, so I definitely struggled with that. But I've been lucky to have some really good people here. Some restaurateurs will open up one restaurant, then another, then open a third. I don't see how that's even possible. I look at my other partner Paolo [Sacco] who opened Tosca, and he didn't open another restaurant for about 8 years after that. So that's where my head is at right now.
You're definitely a veteran to the industry. What other lessons have you learned since opening the doors at Thally?
You gotta keep on top of paperwork. There's so much paperwork. All the taxes and accounting, all the bits of information. It's a lot to keep up with.
What was appealing about coming to Shaw, especially 9th Street?
I always liked 9th Street. I've been driving down 9th Street for 25 years. I grew up in Arlington, and 9th Street is a straight shot. I did a lot of research when I was at Posto in Logan Circle and saw the development was moving east. We knew that City Market at O and the Marriott Marquis were in the pipelines, so it's a good commercial spot with lots of residential units nearby.
So you think the risk of coming to 9th Street paid off?
I think it's starting too. It's definitely growing. Winter was really tough, but in DC, it's notorious when it rains or snows, no one wants to do anything. We got a good long-term lease deal, so we're happy. And I think the neighborhood will grow up around us.
What do you think will add to the neighborhood?
I'm not exactly sure what's missing, but what I hope doesn't happen is it develops like 14th Street, and there are a hundred restaurants in a small area which just cannibalizes each other. So I'm hope that LongView Gallery, the design studios, including Darryl Carter and the local artists and studios will be able to stay in the neighborhood. Plus, there's Naylor Court and Bladgen Alley giving the area funky alley living spaces. It's something certainly different than what you'd find in Logan Circle. So I don't necessarily know what's missing, but I hope the neighborhood continues to support diverse businesses.
Let's talk about your cellos [limoncello, etc.]. You have a bartending background and your cellos are fairly well-known. Any chance of retailing that?
We do lemon, grapefruit, blood orange, tangerine and regular orange. So I try to keep a couple going at the same time. For the retailing, I talked with a few people about that. But it's a lot to manage a restaurant right now, so I'm not trying to take on much more. So for the time being, the cellos are only exclusively at Thally.
The menu at Thally's is limited, yet still diverse. Is the menu creation a collaboration or Chef Ron Tanaka's domain?
Thally definitely doesn't have a set theme. We aren't just a Mediterranean restaurant or Italian or Mexican. We have both carnitas sope and house-made tagliatelle. We do fish and things from all over. We're not set on one thing. And that carries to our wine list. I put on things from Italy, Spain and California. It's all over the map. We just try to find small producers, good value wines from producers people may have never heard of. But with the menu, it's Ron's menu.
How has your drink list evolved since you opened?
I don't look at any other restaurants' wine lists because I don't want to see what other people are doing. I'd rather come up with things on my own. That can be good or bad. Sometimes people suggest certain things, like Tito's Vodka. We never had Tito's Vodka but we ended up getting it. For regulars, when they request something, I'll go out of my way to get it for them.
What are regulars usually ordering?
We have one guy who orders the chicken breast. As soon as he had that chicken great, he liked it and tries to get others in his party to order it as well. Our tagliatelle dish is also a favorite with regulars and is ordered a lot. But we've never had a huge menu. Many of our dishes are considered 'first bites'. And we change things quite frequently. Even our wine list, we only have 35 or 40 labels, but the whole list changes every two months.
Now that you have one year under your belt, do you think things will be easier for the second year?
No. Not until I get everything figured out. Managing people is the toughest thing. Until you figure that out it'll still be pretty stressful. So until I get better at that, it'll be stressful at times.
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