Clyde’s Restaurant Group CEO John G. Laytham, who ran iconic saloons in Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years, has died. He was 74.
Laytham, co-owner of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, passed away with his family by his side Jan. 3 at Washington Hospital Center. He was “bravely fighting a heart condition for many years,” the company said.
“John was a giant of a man and a lion in the industry. His fingerprints will forever be visible throughout the restaurant scene, and on the countless lives he’s impacted,” Tom Meyer, president of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, said in a statement. “I count myself among the many lucky enough to call him a boss, a friend, mentor, and father-figure.”
Laytham and Clyde’s founder Stuart C. Davidson, who died in 2001, made Clyde’s a Georgetown institution. Laytham was enrolled in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service when he took a job as dishwasher at Clyde’s.
Davidson, a Harvard graduate and investment banker, opened Clyde’s to take advantage of a change in the district's liquor laws that allowed the sale of hard liquor at a bar, instead of the table.
Laytham started at Clyde’s a few months later. He and Davidson clicked immediately, sharing the same entrepreneurial ideas for the bar.
“Stuart and John had innate chemistry. With mutual respect, a shared business sense, and complementary personalities, the partners walked in lockstep for decades,” Clyde’s said in a statement.
A series of firsts soon followed. It was Laytham’s idea to serve Sunday brunch at Clyde’s, a first for the neighborhood. He was promoted to bartender at brunch. He continued to move up the ladder until Davidson asked him to be a partner and co-owner five years later.
In 1970, serendipity led them to the Old Ebbitt Grill. Washington, D.C.’s oldest saloon had fallen on hard times and was hosting an auction to raise money to pay a lien against the property. Laytham and Davidson had gone to the auction to bid on a collection of antique beer steins.
Instead, they walked away buying the landmark bar for $11,200.
They revived Old Ebbitt, which later became one of the busiest saloons in Washington, D.C., and one of the top-grossing restaurants in the country.
Over the years, the company expanded the Clyde’s banner, while opening other concepts. The 13-unit portfolio includes restaurants in the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia and Maryland: Clyde’s of Georgetown, Clyde’s of Columbia, Clyde’s of Reston, Clyde’s of Chevy Chase, Clyde’s at Mark Center, Tower Oaks Lodge, Clyde’s of Gallery Place, Clyde’s Willow Creek Farm, Old Ebbitt Grill, The Tombs, 1789 Restaurant, The Hamilton, and a recently-opened music venue, The Soundry.
Early on at Clyde’s, Laytham made a point to hire female servers — an uncommon practice at the time. He also insisted on a “farm to table” menu at the chef-driven restaurants long before the catch phrase became part of the restaurant industry’s marketing lexicon.
With a passion for cooking, Laytham appreciated the sourcing of the food as much as the preparation. An avid gardener, he created a local farm program in the early 1980s to ensure the restaurants were sourcing from the best ingredients.
Laytham’s vision extended beyond the dining room.
He earned many awards for his philanthropic efforts in the community, which included creating Clyde’s School/Work Program. He worked with public schools in the Washington, D.C., area to provide inner-city students with academic mentoring, job training, part-time employment, and recreational activities outside the city limits.
He was the co-founder and former vice president of the Georgetown Business Association. In that role, he encouraged other local businesses to give back to the community.
“Business is uniquely qualified to supply support systems for the next generation, for those young people who stand at the gap between ambition and achievement,” he once said.
Laytham is survived by his wife, Ginger; son, Gibb; three grandchildren, Julia, Olivia, and Lucas; brothers Daniel and Edward; and sisters Sarah Tapsell and Deborah Laytham.
A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Jan. 19 at St. John's Episcopal Church Georgetown, in Washington, D.C .
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in John Laytham’s name to Washington Hospital Center’s Heart and Vascular Institute Cardiac Electrophysiology Research Fund.
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