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Cooking at The Wharf Won’t Deter Kwame Onwuachi From Pursuing Other Plans

Shaw Bijou alum has fast-casual in mind for D.C.

Chef Kwame Onwuachi.
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Kwame Onwuachi, the Top Chef alum and co-founder of the short-lived Shaw Bijou, may have just booked his first comeback job at the sprawling The Wharf complex, but he’s not above cooking up side hustles.

The newly appointed chef of a still-in-development restaurant for the InterContintental hotel taking root along the Southwest waterfront told Eater he’s got a fast-casual restaurant in mind — something he plans to open “within the next year” in D.C. On the short list for its location: Shaw (where he lives), H Street NE, and Chinatown. Onwuachi, who spent part of his youth living with relatives in Nigeria, won’t reveal any details about the restaurant yet, other than that it will “likely involve my heritage.”

Till then, he’ll do what’s needed at The Wharf. “I have my head down and I’m going to give it my all,” Onwuachi told Eater.

Saying Onwuachi has had a wildly unexpected year would be an understatement. He’s joining a large-scale commercial hotel project mere months after spectacularly flaming out at the closely watched Shaw Bijou. That exhaustively covered operation suddenly closed less than three months after its high-profile opening. “I’ve learned a lot of lessons. You could do a whole other article based on that,” Onwuachi suggested.

Onwuachi’s stayed somewhat busy since decamping from Shaw, offering up his talents to a pop-up kitchen in his first cooking appearance since the closure. He also crisscrossed the globe. “Travel has always influenced the way I cook,” Onwuachi said, adding, “Being exposed to different cultures is a way to learn as you’re meeting locals.”

He recently enjoyed a few inspirational meals in Curaçao, the Caribbean island he calls a “melting pot” of South American accents. And one can’t beat the “best” 10-cent tacos he had in Mexico. On the domestic front, Onwuachi praised the standout meal of ravioli and braised veal shoulder he was served at Mirabelle.

Before the InterContinental deal was on the table, Onwuachi said he considered “doing a lot of things.” He had “offers at different places,” he asserts, declining to disclose anything other than that California was calling.

“But when I thought about it, I made D.C. my home and I’ve built a great network here with lots of friends,” he said. “The city has been supportive, in lieu of what’s happened. I am excited to stay.”

The biggest lesson he took away from the disastrous Shaw Bijou is “never stop believing in yourself and just continue on. It’s not how many times you fail, it’s how many times you get up.”

How that next act comes together remains to be seen. Seating capacity and details about the look and feel of the restaurant slotted for The Wharf remain TBD, but InterContinental offered up a rendering of the space:

Rendering of the restaurant InterContinental Hotel is developing at The Wharf.

A spokeswoman for the still-under-construction property told Eater additional details about the new restaurant would be revealed in mid-July. The eatery is slated to debut inside the new 278-room hotel this October.

The restaurant will operate independent of the hotel, similar to how restaurateur Mike Isabella’s Arroz resides within the Marriott Marquis but remains under his umbrella of restaurants.