A former chef at Ella Dining Room and Bar opens the "Mother" of all vegetarian restaurants just a block away on K Street.
(page 2 of 2)
Despite the small kitchen, Thiemann, Mother’s co-executive chef Matt Masera and crew manage to handle the high traffic flow—which has been a factor since day one, with lunchtime lines snaking out the door and down the sidewalk.
“Lunchtime is nuts,” says Thiemann frankly. “We do counter service because that’s the best way we can operate fast and feed a lot of people quickly, even though we’re not that big. It’s the whole La Bonne problem,” he adds, referring to downtown’s late, celebrated La Bonne Soupe Café, whose popularity daily exceeded its tiny seating capacity. “At night we do table service, so we control the seating better and we can pull out the menu a lot more.”
Both menus change daily, but the offerings at dinner are more extensive, including a 10-dish chef’s sampler. But whether you’re ordering at the counter for lunch or sitting down at dinner, Mother retains, by design, a down-to-earth, homegrown vibe.
The restaurant’s name itself evokes this feeling, referencing the idea of Mother Earth and of food culture (a “mother” is the starter that turns wine into vinegar), while also positioning the restaurant as the matriarch of its owners’ planned group of eateries. Thiemann hints that future concepts, after Empress, may include a casual ice cream and French fry joint (a natural pairing, he says, since his secret to great French fries is freezing them) and, eventually, a seafood restaurant. But the name Mother also hides a secret history: in 2007, Thiemann was working in New Zealand at a restaurant called Sweet Mother’s Kitchen.
“One night, I was watching Trainspotting,” he remembers. “And this is really kind of bad—there’s this scene where [a character] goes and buys heroin from [a dealer known as] Mother Superior, and the transaction is like, ‘What’s on the menu today, sir?’ That stuck with me. I always wanted to name a restaurant Mother Superior, but we all agreed that here we were too close to the Catholic church,” referring to the nearby Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. So they dropped “Superior”—but kept the concept of Mother, and the idea of an ever-changing menu, albeit one with vegetables rather than drugs.
Perhaps the most significant idea behind the name Mother, however, is that of a place that mothers and nurtures everyone, vegetarians and meat eaters alike. That’s really what the Thiemanns and Donahue hope to achieve with this modest yet ambitious former lunch counter. “I’ve always wanted to work at a restaurant or own a restaurant that my friends can afford—that everybody can afford,” says Mike Thiemann. “Mother is very inclusive.” S