Responsible adults cannot survive on toaster tarts, boozy milkshakes, and pimento cheese burgers for every meal. That’s the thinking behind the retooled Ted’s Bulletin that opened in Ballston on Monday, the first new location for the popular local comfort food chain since Steve Salis acquired it in November 2017.
Since then, the &pizza co-founder and his team at Salis Holdings (Kramerbooks, Federalist Pig) have been thinking about how to reinvigorate a company beloved for dishes that liberally heaped butter, sugar, and Americana onto its plates. The priorities were to make the menu lighter — Salis believes that this will bring in more women, noting that 64 percent of the restaurant’s audience is female — and make changes that bring its struggling dinner service up to par with booming breakfast and brunch.
Last fall, Salis hired Chris Anderson, who led modernist Chicago restaurant Moto to a Michelin star a few years ago and also worked at Alinea, to be his group’s corporate executive chef. At Ted’s in Ballston, Anderson has brought on more salads, an avocado hummus appetizer, and a cauliflower steak entree. Many of the changes have already appeared at the five existing locations of Ted’s.
“Let me be clear in saying we want to maintain an element of comfort,” Salis says. “Comfort also has a negative connotation around products being heavy.”
An all-day breakfast menu isn’t going anywhere. There are still plenty of indulgences, too (the Sloppy Joe, biscuits and gravy, milkshakes). But Salis wants Ted’s to be a place that attracts repeat customers several days a week.
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So the menu now is intended to shift slightly away from a greasy spoon and hew closer to a French brasserie. Decisions to boost the bar program — and introduce a happy hour — were made in attempt to make Ted’s a viable option for pre-gaming before meals elsewhere. The addition of a new brand-within-a-brand, Sidekick, makes the Ballston site a stop for people to grab a coffee or an over-the-top croissants.
The things that don’t appear to have changed will be different, too, because Salis says Ted’s is prioritizing more “honest products” — his lingo for higher quality meats and veggies — than the former owners at the Matchbox group did.
The new happy hour runs throughout the entire restaurant from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday. It comes with $3 draft beers, including local pours from Aslin Brewing Co., Solace Brewing Co., and DC Brau. Eight different small plates (house tots and pimento mac and cheese, for example) are $5. So are glasses of wine. Classic cocktails run for $7.
Inside Ted’s 2.0 in Ballston, the Art Deco identity has been blended with austere Bauhaus and mid-century modern touches that make the predominantly light gray dining room and bar look like somewhere the Jetsons might stop for dinner. Salis has invested heavily in lighting and speakers, working with in-house music engineers to develop playlists to cater to different moods as the day progresses.
As Salis Holdings grows, its namesake believe’s Ted’s Bulletin can be a tentpole carrying the company far beyond D.C.
“I see no reason why there can’t be a Ted’s in many communities around the country,” Salis says.