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What’s the Deal With Executive Diner’s Contentious Menu?

Both management and a fired chef are claiming credit for the sweeping document

The building that houses new Alexandria restaurant Executive Diner.
Google Images [Official photo]

The drama surrounding new arrival Executive Diner continues, with one of the founders as well as a former chef each claiming to have authored its roster of omelettes, sandwiches, and nightly specials.

The weirdness started April 23. That’s when Executive Diner co-founder Jerry Pnevmatikatos fired opening chef Dadisi Olutosin after the first day of service. Olutosin, a Sequoia alum who had been hired as executive chef, tells Eater he spent months testing recipes and developing dishes for the companion cafe and diner first-time restaurateur Pnevmatikatos recently unveiled in Alexandria, Virginia. Pnevmatikatos insists that Olutosin contributed nothing to the end product; he says he and general manager Adriano Tarantola collaborated on the menu.

“He [Olutosin] didn’t want anything to do with diner food,” Pnevmatikatos says. “He did not want the steaks. He did not want the breakfast all day. We never saw eye-to-eye.”

So why did Pnevmatikatos keep Olutosin on the payroll? “I still needed someone to flip eggs in the morning,” he says.

Olutosin paints a completely different picture of his time there.

“No matter what anyone else says, that menu is a reflection of my creativity and hard work,” he says. “Prior to me coming onboard, there was no menu.”

According to Olutosin, the only guidance he received was to ready an “upscale diner.” He says he filled in the blanks with Southern-style comfort foods. “But the owners kept adding items with little or no discussion with me.” Olutosin says he and others at the restaurant warned Pnevmatikatos against making everything available all day, citing staffing and design issues as potential stumbling blocks.

“There’s a science to determining menu size and building kitchens when you’re building out a new restaurant … but the owner disregarded all opinions except his own,” Olutosin tells Eater.

The current menu runs the gamut, offering everything from hummus with naan as well pork tacos with pico de gallo as appetizers to trendy farro grain bowls. There’s also build-your-own burgers, lobster mac and cheese, chorizo-filled breakfast burritos, and chicken Parmesan. The brunt of the menu is offered from open to close; seven entrees — including a catch of the day offering, mixed grill with steak and shrimp, and a roasted chicken dish — join the rotation each day at 4:30 p.m.

Pnevmatikatos says he plans to carry on with the kitchen crew he already has in place. “I’m not sure I’m going to hire another chef. My experience with chefs has not been very comforting,” he tells Eater.

Olutosin is already at work on another venture. He says he and his business partner at Plated Food Groupe are raising money to open a 65-seat restaurant in the area. As for the menu there, Olutosin says to expect “food people can relate to.”