Originally established in 1856, this downtown restaurant sits in the heart of quintessential Washington, drawing from a history of Presidential patrons, to a current crowd of political insiders and celebrity out-of-towners. Travelers and tourists find solace in the comfortable atmosphere, taking in the Victorian interior and convenient location to Washington’s many attractions. Offering early morning breakfasts through post-theater suppers with the finest fresh ingredients of the season, making the Old Ebbitt Grill a perennial favorite.
Executive Chef Robert McGowan
Presiding over a kitchen operation of staggering scope, Executive Chef Robert McGowan is at the helm of a restaurant that feeds more than 2000 people a day. He and his staff of 100 serve food from the early morning until past midnight seven days a week, as well as overseeing the bustling Ebbitt Express carryout, and preparing food for events in three different private party rooms.
Born and raised in Northport, Long Island, New York, Robert is the youngest of three children. After struggling academically in public school, he attended the famed Gow School for Dyslexia and Learning Differences in South Wales, New York, and graduated in 1979.
Looking to fulfill his love for the culinary arts, Robert moved to New York City to work in the finest restaurants. His first job was at Kitcho Restaurant, a classic Japanese restaurant. There, while working a brutal, yet fun, 6-day-a-week schedule, McGowan grew professionally and personally. He learned the importance of taking care of the customer, and he met his wife, Kouanchai. Married for twenty years, they have three children: Samantha, Sean, and Matt.
After two and a half years at Kitcho, Robert decided formal training might be beneficial. In 1982, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY. Part of his training included an externship at the original Le Cirque Restaurant in New York City.
After graduation, Robert was invited to return to Le Cirque by Executive Chef Alain Sailhac. Over the next ten years, Robert went from a line cook to management in several restaurants. He worked as Sous Chef at the “21 Club” in mid-town Manhattan, Sous Chef of Rosemary Restaurant in Tribeca, Chef of the Lion’s Rock Restaurant on the Upper East Side, Executive Chef of Sardis in the theater district, and Executive Chef of Ten’s World Class Cabaret. In his position as Executive Chef in 1994, Robert was featured in New York Magazine’s “Best of” edition.
In 1995, Robert was named the Executive Chef of the Old Ebbitt Grill. Robert made an immediate impact on the restaurant work environment by closing the gap between the front and back of house and dispensing with the then settled “that’s the way we have always done it” attitude. The Ebbitt was a great restaurant in 1995 but it has steadily improved with Robert as the Top Toque in the kitchen. Under Robert’s command, annual gross sales have increased from $9 to $23 million dollars annually with 75% of sales being food sales. The Old Ebbitt is now the nation’s fifth largest restaurant, based on annual gross revenue.
The Old Ebbitt brigade consists of 300 employees, over 100 of who work in the kitchen directly under Robert’s guidance. The restaurant serves over 2,000 guests per day in the main dining rooms and private functions can number 1,000 guests per day. Robert muses, “It’s rather simple. As long as you work hard, love what you do, have some creativity, never lose focus of what service is all about, and—most importantly—work with and for people who share the same philosophy, it’s a piece of cake.”