“Right now we’re in damage control,” Tom Johnson told Heard on the Hill over the phone Monday.
Johnson is managing partner at Hill Restaurant Group, which owns Hawk ’n’ Dove and other restaurants in Southeast D.C., including Ophelia’s Fish House, Lola’s and Finn’s.
The company initially refused to “bow down” to what they called “pressure from the Mayor’s Office or any group for that matter who covertly is attempting to shut us down” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
They’ve since changed course, shuttering their restaurants for now and walking back their comments after facing backlash, including death threats, according to Johnson.
“It was communicated poorly,” Johnson said of his initial defiance, which came in a weekend post to District Industry, a private Facebook group for hospitality workers. “We might’ve hurt our brand with that statement.”
In a new statement posted to the group’s website on Monday afternoon, the restaurateur apologized for appearing “selfish” in the face of temporary restrictions announced by Mayor Muriel Bowser.
“We reached out to the Mayor’s office to voice our concern on the implications that it would have on the restaurant industry … and have received no response,” reads the new statement, adding that Hill Restaurant Group will now find it “impossible” to keep everyone employed.
The group has around 150 hourly workers who will go without pay, according to Johnson. Managers will be paid as usual for now, he said.
Customers had denounced the group’s intent to defy the mayor, who herself addressed the controversy in a Monday morning tweet.
Some called for boycotts of the company’s establishments, including Hawk ’n’ Dove, a popular Capitol Hill watering hole known to host lawmakers and staffers who work just down the road.
The controversy came as pub crawlers continued to crawl, observers fumed, and service industry workers found themselves caught in the middle — a dynamic that played out around the country ahead of St. Patrick’s Day as the coronavirus spread. But for some, it also reflected a sense that consolidated ownership has watered down Capitol Hill pub culture.
“I preferred the old Hawk ’n’ Dove where every surface was sticky & beer-spattered over the Hill Restaurant Group’s remaking, anyway,” wrote one Twitter user.
Hawk ’n’ Dove dates back to the 1960s but entered a new chapter after original co-founder Stuart Long closed up shop in 2011.
The initial coronavirus-related restrictions on restaurants in D.C. banned bar seating, service to standing patrons and tables placed closer than six feet together, among other things. Another round of restrictions ended table service altogether, effective Monday at 10 p.m. and lasting until April 1, the mayor announced Monday afternoon. Takeout and delivery were still allowed.