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The Henri in Washington, D.C. raises the bar on private dining

Frederik De Pue creates customizable spaces for power brokers to dine

Veteran Chef Frederik De Pue returns to Washington, D.C. with an ambitious modular dining concept designed to capitalize on private dining. The Henri opened Feb. 15 on Pennsylvania Avenue in a central downtown location between the National Theater and Warner Theater, and a few blocks from the White House.

The Henri provides an innovative dining space — a modern bistro that features both communal dining, as well as private dining with one-of-a-kind modular rooms that can accommodate parties of varying sizes.

The front of the restaurant is a traditional setup, open to guests to make reservations or walk-ins, with an open kitchen, and about 60 seats in the main dining room and an additional 50 at the bar. But the main lure of the 8,000-square-foot venue is six soundproof private dining rooms and a rooftop that overlooks the National Mall.

The private dining rooms can be adjusted to accommodate four to 80 diners, and can be accessed by a separate hostess stand or private entrance. The rooms each have individual audio/video systems along with sound-absorbing insulation, and share a separate central kitchen and bar, making it as private as possible. Overall, 60% of the entire space is dedicated to private dining at this time.

De Pue’s concept for The Henri is fueled by his passion for food as well as the consideration for the size of the space and the possibilities.

“Managing a large restaurant is really hard, so I wanted to consider what else the area needs instead.  Flexible, modular private-dining spaces to accommodate any type of gathering is really not something we have in the area,” said De Pue.

The market research done by the team while developing the concept indicated large demand with a very small supply, he said. “Most private events are either held in a back room in a restaurant or in a hotel venue, where private dining is not the main focus. For larger groups, a restaurant buyout was needed. In contrast, we are able to offer options for various types of gatherings, and also the personal touch in addition to privacy. We are not just selling food, we are selling the space too.”

De Pue, a Belgian native who worked at some of the top restaurants in Europe before moving to the U.S., began his D.C. career as a chef for embassies. His past restaurants in the Washington area have included Table, Azure and Menu MBK. He currently owns Flamant in Annapolis, Md., and has operated a catering business for many years.

In many ways, The Henri is an enhancement and extension of his catering, he said. “My experience with catering allows me to tap into various aspects — using a professional staffing pool to staff appropriately based on the number of private parties we have at a time, controlling costs for food, and also providing a personalized service. It’s happening in my space now, but all of this is seamless to hosts,” De Pue said.

Having access to a kitchen so close by also offers potential and uniqueness in terms of the diverseness of the menu and freshness of the food. This allows De Pue to treat private dining as a personalized experience, irrespective of the size. There are three tiers of private dining offered — three courses per person for $85 or $105; four courses for $135; or a customized option, with taxes, tip and drinks additional.

In the main restaurant, starters average $14-$15 and main-course prices range from $32 to $44, including such options as butter-poached Atlantic cod, wild boar lasagna and veal cheeks Carbonnade.

A number of items come off the French bonnet rotisserie oven, such as lamb T-bone, pork shoulder and more. “We truly have an array of menu options, whether you dine at the restaurant or a private meal. We can accommodate a wide variety, where you can have something different each time,” said De Pue. He hopes this will be a sought-after feature for business meetings and conferences — they have the set up to accommodate breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus drinks on the rooftop.

In the opening weeks, De Pue says the reaction has been very positive. While they had private events booked within the first few weeks, he considers this the discovery period for diners and takes opportunities to showcase the private dining areas to guests who may not be aware of them.

“We are hoping that by the end of the year, all our dining spaces are booked as continuously as possible,” he said.

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