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Estadio Owner Reveals Details of New Sustainable Restaurant Coming to Shaw

Max Kuller is bringing Oyster Oyster to Shaw and an Estadio to Charleston

A rendering of Oyster Oyster
The future facade of Oyster Oyster.
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Estadio owner Max Kuller is forming a new restaurant group that puts his next two big projects under the same umbrella. The new group, called In Living Kuller, will oversee two openings scheduled for this summer: a Charleston, South Carolina, outpost of the pioneering Spanish tapas bar on 14th Street, and the sustainability-centric Oyster Oyster headed to Shaw.

When Kuller’s father, Mark, died in 2014 he left behind a company that controlled Proof, Doi Moi, and Estadio. Max stepped in to carry on his father’s legacy as part of a partnership with his uncle, Jason. Kuller split with the company, Fat Baby Inc., in 2017. He held onto Estadio while Jason Kuller got the other two restaurants.

The name for Max Kuller’s new group honors his dad’s memory. In Living Kuller was also the name of a portable business a pint-sized Kuller ran with his father. They sold trading cards and comic books at community centers and hotels.

“It hasn’t been in business since around 1994, so I figured I would bring it back,” Kuller tells Eater. “It makes me happy to connect it to something I did with my dad.”

He also thinks the name sums up the mantra of his budding brand: “To live brightly and colorfully and help inspire people to get excited about food.”

Kuller says watching decade-old Proof close from afar this year was bittersweet. “No room will remind me more of my father than that room did,” says Kuller, who waited tables at the wine bar during its early years in Penn Quarter.

Kuller says the new company will hold off on opening any new projects until “at least a year or two” after Estadio Charleston and Oyster Oyster open.

“In the long term we have future ambitions and further things these projects could lead to,” Kuller says.

Team Oyster Oyster is working with architect Grizform, which is also behind the look of the new Estadio coming to Charleston.

Here’s a closer look inside each project:

Oyster Oyster

Kuller teamed up with former Hazel chef Rob Rubba and 2 Birds, 1 Stone barman Adam Bernbach to open Oyster Oyster (1440 Eighth Street NW), an ode to environmentally-friendly bivalves and the mushrooms that’ll star alongside other local and seasonal ingredients. Bernbach is planning to sell organic or biodynamic wines and herbal cocktails that integrate kitchen scraps.

The small, 35-seat space, lined with neutral tones and slick subway tiles, will play up a veggie theme via dangling plant life, a partial green wall, and mint-colored banquettes.

Kuller went the extra mile to source some design elements. He made two visits to Ischia, a volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples, Italy, to scavenge colorful mosaic tiles that have washed ashore. They’ll live on as wall decor at Oyster Oyster.

The inside of an oyster shell inspires iridescent, quartz, and pearly accents surrounding the bar at Oyster Oyster.

The 1,250-square-foot setup also plans to make use of an unused garage entrance, originally created as a grocery pick-up point next to Dolci Gelati. Pinball machines and salvaged skateboard decks lining the bar will give the extension the feel of a hip garage hangout.

Oyster Oyster will open at weekdays at noon, offering grab-and-go tartines, salads, and “mushroom” jerky. Along with beers, taps will be dedicated to coffee, juice, wine, and draft cocktails. Starting at 4 p.m., oysters will be shucked off a raw bar.

A regarded street artist Max Kuller met in Bogata will travel to D.C. to paint one mural dedicated to oysters and another all about different mushrooms.

Kuller and Rubba went on the ultimate R&D trip for Oyster Oyster this year, scoring a reservation at René Redzepi’s world famous eco-friendly Noma in Copenhagen.

The team has hosted a series of pop-ups across town to tease menu offerings. Oyster Oyster’s next preview will be on Saturday, June 1, at Root & Marrow Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia — where much of the restaurant’s produce will grow — complete with a tour by farmer Erik Schlener and dinner prepared by Rubba. The day-long excursion ($130) will kick off with bubbly at Maxwell Wine Bar in Shaw.

Estadio Charleston

Although Kuller often sports a vintage Washington Bullets hat, these days he’s showing love to Estadio’s second home with an old-school baseball hat for the Charleston Rainbows, the former name of the city’s minor league team (now the RiverDogs).

He compares the location of Estadio Charleston to the scene at the beginning of the restaurant boom on 14th Street NW. Eight Airbnb units are housed above the restaurant on Spring Street, and the long-term plan is to offer room service to its upstairs guests.

Estadio will largely import the look and feel of its inaugural D.C. restaurant to Charleston, complete with a running of the bulls theme and fleur-de-lis design accents.

Estadio’s second location will sit about half as many guests as its 100-seat D.C. counterpart.

Instead of some high-top tables near the bar (pictured), the plan is to add a large communal table.
A huge bull will man the back of the bar, offset with colorful Spanish movie posters from the 1950s.

The low-rise, mixed-use residential neighborhood has old Charleston charm, with lots of hot dining options around its 10-block radius.

“It’s an exciting time for the city,” Kuller says. “There’s a sense of freshness and expansion.”

Head chef Alex Lira is prepping for a big research-and-development trip across Spain next month. A three-week stage will take him to a range of top kitchens in and around San Sebastián and Madrid.

“This will feed the direction of the [Charleston] menu in ways we don’t even know yet,” says Kuller. After he returns in late June, the plan is to host a round of pop-ups around town to drum up excitement and sharpen recipes, he adds.

While the core of D.C.’s menu will be imported to Charleston — like patatas bravas and cured meats and cheeses — some dishes will differ depending on what’s in season in the South.

“We aren’t going to take a salad from here and recreate it in Charleston,” Kuller says.

Cocktails will also taste a little different. Estadio’s lauded gin and tonic program will incorporate tonics on tap from a Southern producer.

Charleston diners got a first taste of Estadio — which means “stadium” in Spanish — during a preview party for Charleston’s Food & Wine Festival this spring. Charleston City Paper wrote about the skewered pintxo gilda and cited Bernbach’s Oloroso old fashioned — with El Maestro Sierra 15 year Oloroso sherry — as its “hands down” favorite drink of the week.

Instead of its iconic wooden sign out front, the new Estadio will welcome guests with cursive neon pink lettering spelling out its name.

The bathrooms will also have a new vibe. Colorful labels from Valencia orange crates he personally collected during travels to Spain, along with some amassed on Ebay, will function as new wall art.