In an industry that tends to obsess over “the next new thing,” veteran fine-dining chef Robert Kinkead Jr. continues to set standards. With more than 35 years in the restaurant business under his belt, Kinkead has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation, Food & Wine magazine, Esquire, the Washingtonian and Nation’s Restaurant News. His 14-year-old Kinkead’s is one of only two Mobil four-star restaurants in Washington, D.C. He also owns and operates Colvin Run Tavern in Tysons Corner, Va., and Sibling Rivalry in Boston, which he opened with his brother David three years ago. And while he says he is weighing other projects, he is not rushing into anything.
What have you been doing this summer?
Fighting with the landlord at one of my restaurants and hanging out with my grandchildren.
Which restaurant, and what’s the problem?
Colvin Run Tavern in Tysons Corner. We’ve just been having some lease issues. They will either get resolved—or they won’t.
You have three restaurants. How do you divide your time?
My office is in the same building as Kinkead’s, and I spend the vast majority of the week there. I’m usually at Colvin Run Tavern a couple of days a week—one day all day and then usually one night. For Sibling Rivalry, I usually talk to them by phone. But my brother David runs it. I stop in once a month and annoy everybody.
Any new projects planned?
I’m looking at a lot of things, but nothing I could say is definite. I’m beginning to ask myself if I really want to take on extra work now. At some juncture I’m going to have to decide how do I cash out of the businesses I’ve built. I figure I’ll be at this full time maybe 10 more years, so the decisions I make now will affect the restaurants after I’m gone. I know a lot of guys my age who are beginning to talk about it.
FAST FACTS AGE: 55EDUCATION: bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Massachusetts, AmherstEXPERIENCE: 35 years in different restaurants; worked at Harvest in Cambridge, Mass.; owned and operated a series of restaurants, including 21 Federal in Nantucket, Mass.; 21 Federal in Washington, D.C.; Kinkead’s in Washington, D.C.; Colvin Run Tavern, in Tysons Corner, Va.; and Sibling Rivalry with his brother David in Boston.PERSONAL: married, three stepchildren, six grandchildren
AGE: 55EDUCATION: bachelor’s degree in psychology, University of Massachusetts, AmherstEXPERIENCE: 35 years in different restaurants; worked at Harvest in Cambridge, Mass.; owned and operated a series of restaurants, including 21 Federal in Nantucket, Mass.; 21 Federal in Washington, D.C.; Kinkead’s in Washington, D.C.; Colvin Run Tavern, in Tysons Corner, Va.; and Sibling Rivalry with his brother David in Boston.PERSONAL: married, three stepchildren, six grandchildren
What’s the dining scene like in Washington?
In the last three or four years it’s changed quite a bit. There’s been a huge influx of independent restaurants. On one level, that’s good because it makes the quality of the cuisine better. People have to be more on their game.
But there’s a downside for older restaurants. Kinkead’s is an institution, and it always will do a certain amount of business. But I would say about 90 quality restaurants have opened in last four years, and everybody has taken a little nibble out of our business.
Have you observed any trends?
I think you will begin to see a slowdown in the opening of luxury or ultra-luxe restaurants. We’ll see more restaurants geared towards a lower check average. Washington is a good restaurant city, but not a great restaurant city. It doesn’t have great midrange restaurants. It has great ethnic food and good high-end restaurants. But it always lacked great neighborhood places like New York or Chicago. I think we’ll see more of those types of restaurants.
This city is going through some changes, and that’s gonna be tougher on older guys, not the hot, new guys. Food writers want to know who’s the new 22-year-old chef in town. They don’t want to know about the guys who have been around for a while, even though they probably changed the diapers of the 22-year-old chef at one time or another.