Husband-and-wife team and first-time restaurateurs Ryan Fleming and Miranda Mirabella brought their love of coffee and cocktails from the West Coast to Logan Circle's Slipstream a year ago. Housed in a former brake repair shop, their restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in a neighborhood without many all-day options for noshing and drinking.
Ryan and Miranda took some time to talk about staffing struggles, serving artisanal toast, trying not to take mishaps too personally and welcoming a new family member in a few months.
How has Slipstream's concept changed since you opened?
RF: At Slipstream, we wanted to do something that was different. In Logan Circle, there were already a lot of coffee shops and cocktail bars, and we wanted our primary focus to bring those two ideas together in a different way. Coffee is more than a way to get caffeine, and cocktails are more than something you have while having a conversation. A lot of the first year was learning how customers reacted to different things and what they actually liked. So we had to figure out how to layout the menu, how to modify service and figure out something as simple as how to handle traffic flow.
MM: We started with bartenders and baristas separately when we originally opened. We worked really hard to do a lot of cross-training who are interested in both high-quality coffee and cocktails so we could have more overlap.
How have your roles changed since you opened?
MM: It's nice to have only one full-time job now.
RF: In the beginning, there was a lot of turnover, and I was spending a lot of time trying to refine the concept. So I was here every single day, analyzing every single detail. As we approach year two, I can share that responsibility with some great people. On our coffee side, we have Mo Koolphanich and Josh Brodey are dedicated to what they do, so they just run with the program, which frees me up to tackle other things.
What else is coming down the pipeline for the second year?
RF: We're trying to figure out how to share this space with other areas of D.C. We don't think this is a concept that just applies to Logan Circle. We want to share quality coffee and cocktails with other areas of the city.
MM: We're continuing to refine the concept and are starting to figure out what the space would look like in another location.
Why did you choose Logan Circle for your first location?
MM: Well, we looked everywhere.
RF: I spent time at other coffee shops in the city counting foot traffic and walking around all the side streets to get a feel for the city since I came from San Francisco.
MM: I think it was the building [1333 14th St NW] we fell in love with. The space is so beautiful, it had a great story and a unique vibe. It was a bike repair shop, and then Fathom Creative was here.
RF: We were also fortunate because the local ANC has been very supportive and interested in what we're doing. Plus, our customers in the neighborhood have been very supportive.
MM: And they give us good feedback.
Slipstream was one of the early providers of "artisanal toast" in the city. How was that received?
MM: It was well-received. Avocado toast is still well-loved and one of our most popular items.
RF: For us, it was more than just providing "artisanal toast". Since we have a small kitchen, it's a great way to provide something local, delicious and versatile to our customers.
MM: Sarah Cotton is our pastry chef, and she's been responsible for developing so many of our baked goods. And since not too many places around here does breakfast on weekdays, that's been something that our customers really enjoy having in the mornings. And we do "pop-tarts" but we call them hand pies.
RF: Yeah, I think the name "pop-tart" is definitely taken.
When you originally opened, your cocktail list was organized by flavors to encourage talking with the bartender about what you wanted. Is that still the case?
RF: Yeah, I really like what Ulf Ekholm [bar manager] does. He started off as a barista and trained under Tom Brown. It's still less about the individual cocktails and more about having them make you the right drink. Originally, we focus on the classic cocktails with house-made ingredients, and then we learn a bit more about the customer by asking a few questions, like if they want a more adventurous cocktail or something that's more comfortable. And that's sort of how we're organizing our coffees as well.
As first-time restaurateurs, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
MM: I have to pick just one?
You can give me a list if you'd like.
RF: The easiest one that comes to my mind is staffing. I went from being a director of finance and having a team of four people to running a much, much larger team of people.
MM: And to go to managing a team of 30 people — that's a lot. Hiring is a really, really tough thing to stay on top of every day. And I feel like D.C. doesn't have enough people to handle all these new restaurants.
RF: I think it's also because D.C. is transitioning to a different type of city. It's less focused on what's happening on The Hill and creating its own identity.
MM: But we've learned how to hire better.
RF: And I think an issue for me is that you have this vision of what you want, and you want to give everyone the best experience possible, and we all try so hard every single day. So when someone doesn't have the best experience, I sometimes take it personally. But I'm getting better and not bringing it home.
If you could have done one thing differently before opening your doors, what would you have done?
MM: We learned from everything that happened.
RF: Yeah, if I changed something, I maybe wouldn't have learned something that helped us get to where we are today.
MM: Maybe I would have thought a little more about our pass area. And while I love the space, I don't think we expected the volume for brunch — and that's a pleasant surprise for us — but we could use a bigger place to pass food.
You talked about what's next for Slipstream. Do you want to talk about what's next for you two?
MM: Well, we have a new family member coming. So that'll be something big for us.