This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2013.
Danny Wells started his restaurant career at 13 as a dishwasher at the former Savory Cafe, now Capital City Cheesecake in Takoma Park. He started helping pastry chef Patty Oakley when things were slow, and by 16, he decided he wanted to open a restaurant in Takoma Park one day.
On Dec. 8, he did just that.
Wells is the executive chef and partner at Black Restaurant Group’s newest spot, Republic — a name that pays homage to the city’s nickname, The People’s Republic of Takoma Park.
Near the intersection of Carroll and Laurel avenues, the restaurant takes over the former Video Americain and Summer Delights spaces, combined as an 80-seat dining room and 16-seat bar. During warm weather, 30 more can sit on the patio out back.
Wells has worked with Jeff Black, chef and owner of Black Restaurant Group, for 10 years, moving up to executive chef at Black Salt and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, both in Washington, D.C.
The pair had their eye on Takoma Park for some time and looked at several other locations before finding the just over 3,000-square-foot space in Old Takoma. Black said residents have been supportive, recruiting him to check out locations in recent years.
As with most of Black’s other restaurants, seafood will be a focus, as will vegetables and grains, to serve Takoma Park’s health-conscious and vegetarian residents. And they’ll source what they can locally.
Fish, they promise, is sustainably caught. The restaurant group even has its own fishmonger to ensure quality and conscientious sourcing. For meat, the group buys antibiotic-free and mostly grass-fed.
“We have a great network of local farmers that we use,” Wells said. There are fewer options in winter months, but they already have a few items from local farmers in the kitchen and all local beers on tap.
Bar Manager Brett Robinson said “local beer is kind of a no-brainer.” Besides supporting local businesses and the environmental appeal, it’s typically cheaper too.
Cocktails “play on some socialist themes,” Robinson said. There’s The Fascist Killer, which Robinson said really is a killer with its potency, and The Localist, which uses Takoma Park-produced BeeGeorge honey.
Two more are inspired by local celebrities. The Sammie Abbott’s tagline is “a stiff drink for a tough leader,” and the Primitive American commemorates the music style “American primitivism” created by Takomite John Fahey.
Black calls the interior design “Takoma style.” “It’s kind of mishmashed,” he said. A handful of fixtures came from Takoma Park, like the beads hanging from the lamps over the bar, made of repurposed jet-engine parts. The beads are from S&A Beads down the street. Table tops were made from joists from an old Georgetown, Washington, D.C., rowhouse.
The wallpaper is most likely from the 1940s, there’s a set of doors from Argentina by way of New Jersey, and the red velvet banquet is a series of adjoined Craigslist-sourced sofas.
“We go on hunts and we find stuff and we work retroactively off of those things,” Black said. He hopes it reflects “a blending of the very wide range of personalities in Takoma Park.”
Three bay window alcoves punctuate the facade. Black envisions bands playing live music in the center bay, or on the patio on warm nights. A regular open-mic night has also been under discussion. Black has been talking with David Eisner, owner of the nearby House of Musical Traditions, about organizing events.
Eisner said he would love to see the restaurant draw some nationally recognized artists. In a city highly engaged in music and arts, a new venue is “potentially very exciting,” he said.