Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s debut D.C. restaurant at MGM National Harbor has failed, and the casino giant will fill the atrium-level hole with a new spot called Conservatory Cafe.
Samuelsson, who operates several Harlem eateries, was one of three celebrity chefs to open restaurants inside MGM National Harbor last December. The other two, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House from Top Chef alumni and sibling chefs Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, and burgeoning chain Fish from restaurateur José Andrés, appear to be unaffected by the planned hospitality swap.
NYC-based Marcus Samuelsson Group provided the following statement from the chef regarding the closure:
"We respect the changes in creative direction and strategy they wish to make at MGM National Harbor and mutually decided it made sense to go our separate ways. It has been a pleasure to be a part of the MGM National Harbor team. We want to thank all of our guests and employees who have supported us at Marcus National Harbor," Samuelsson said in the prepared statement.
They expect existing Marcus employees to stay on board when the space converts, adds the MSG team.
The Ethiopian-born and Swedish-raised restaurateur pushed comfort foods at Marcus, serving dishes such as fried chicken, mac and cheese, and local Maryland seafood amidst a laid-back setting designed by New York-based Parts and Labor Design. But Marcus failed to impress critics like Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema, who panned the spot in a September review.
The family-friendly spot featured some sex appeal in the back, via a speakeasy called Sammy’s, which also closed.
It sits at the base of MGM’s soaring central glass-enclosed atrium, across from Asian-fusion spot Ginger. Conservatory Cafe, projected to tentatively open on Saturday, January 6, boasts a front-row seat of the elaborate setup it’s named after (currently occupied by glittery holiday decor). The menu will include “classic breakfast options to upscale café and lounge selections,” according to a statement from MGM spokesman Malik Husser.
Marcus oversaw in-room dining at the resort, with 24-hour food service flowing out of his kitchen into some of the 308 rooms every night. Now lazy guests can call up for offerings from the new cafe and fare from its multi-vendor National Market.
UPDATE: MGM provided its own statement regarding Tuesday’s news:
“After lengthy discussions with Chef Marcus Samuelsson, we mutually agreed last Fall that Marcus National Harbor would close January 2. We are grateful for the role Chef Samuelsson played in establishing MGM National Harbor as a must-experience dining destination and a significant player on the competitive DC restaurant scene. We wish him success in his future endeavors.”