NGO vet Kristen Carson Hamilton — now general manager of Little Pearl, the highly anticipated coffee shop/wine bar (more on that in a second) scheduled to debut Saturday, December 16, in the former Bayou Bakery spot on Capitol Hill — says she knew she’d found her life’s calling the moment she stepped inside a blessedly line-free Rose’s Luxury for a drink.
It was October 2013 and Hamilton had recently quit her job handling human resources for an international nonprofit; She had taken up driving around her Nissan Versa hatchback for ride-hailing service Uber to make some money while contemplating what to do next. She lived in Eastern Market and was looking for a place to catch up with a friend, when the neon green “Rose’s Luxury” sign beckoned.
“What is this place?” she remembers thinking as she ventured inside. Rose’s had just opened that same week; it would be almost a full year before before Bon Appetit would name now-James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef Aaron Silverman’s eclectic eatery with the vintage furniture and upbeat waitstaff the best new restaurant in the country. Rose’s was still relatively unknown, and as Hamilton and her friend sat at the bar, sipping a glass of rye with rosewater and lemon, she had a sudden realization: This place. This is where I want to work.
It took a few conversations with Silverman and Rose’s general manager, Andrew Limberg, to find a role for her at the self-styled restaurant. They started her out as host and food runner. She later graduated to helping out with floor manager shifts before moving up to a manager training program — one that had been created especially for her. Her nickname was “KC,” a nod to her maiden name (Kristen Carson) and her hometown (Kansas City).
“Nicknames are really popular here,” she tells Eater.
A year after she was hired, she was a full-fledged floor manager. When Silverman began compiling a team to lead the opening of his second restaurant, Pineapple and Pearls, Hamilton jumped at the chance to be part of that, too.
“Aaron really wanted to do things differently than other restaurants. He wanted to make sure folks had the kind of care they needed,” says Hamilton, speaking both of the customers that come to dine and staff that work for him. The manager-in-training program was one aspect of that, allowing Hamilton the opportunity to grow into a leadership role while staying with the company.
For a year and a half, Silverman ran a popular cafe out of now-Michelin starred Pineapple and Pearls, serving coffee, snacks and small sandwiches. He closed it down earlier this year in anticipation of moving the daytime operation down the street to the renovated carriage house at Hill Center that fellow restaurateur and baker David Guas had transformed into a casual gathering spot a few years back.
Hamilton is set to run freshly minted Little Pearl (921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE), a mini-restaurant designed to serve coffee, wine, gelato, and other light fare. A beloved fried chicken sandwich is making the migration from the old cafe; it will be joined by a salmon sandwich on sourdough with cream cheese, an eggplant tarte tatin, some salads, and gluten-free cinnamon toast, among other offerings.
Hamilton is confident that she can build a team at Little Pearl that will execute easily approachable food and drink with the same passion that critically acclaimed Rose’s and Pineapple and Pearls bring to their highly coveted meals.
“We want it to be a place where we and our loved ones want to hang out,” she says, adding, “I want it to be successful, warm, welcoming and fun.”
As for her rocketing up the restaurant ladder in just a few short years, Hamilton very much appreciates all the support she’s been shown ever since she grabbed that fateful drink.
“I didn’t envision that I would have the opportunity to open a restaurant so soon from coming in the door here … but I get very excited about making it happen,” Hamilton says.