Foodservice Monthly (FSM) celebrates 10 years of publishing with an opportunity to honor two of the good people of the food and hospitality world of Washington DC as our 2011 Foodservice Leaders of the Year: Todd and Ellen Gray of Equinox Restaurant. They are the quintessential dynamic duo, husband and wife, parents of Harrison, and partners in Equinox Restaurant and the soon to open Todd Gray’s Watershed.
First, let’s share a little history about the award. In 2007, the late Marcia Harris, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland was honored as our first Foodservice Leader of the Year. In establishing the criteria, Foodservice Monthly wanted to make sure the award went to a person (or persons) who are currently actively engaged in the industry in the high achievement mode … this is not a lifetime achievement award, although these fast-track leaders have great accomplishments that create long lists when measuring success.
The use of the word leader came about from a 1980’s ad that United Technology Corporation (UTC) ran using succinct messages of corporate and personal keys to success. One in particular moved me and I framed it and used it as a constant reminder as I managed food and beverage departments in my hotel operations days. The full-page ad headline declared, “Let’s Get Rid of Management.” It began, “People don’t want to be managed. They want to be led. Whoever heard of a world manager? World leader, yes.” Down the page the point was reiterated, “They lead, They don’t manage.”
Then it hit home hard with, “You can lead your horse to water, but you can’t manage it to drink.” The home run came with, “If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself.” As the idea of the annual recognition of a Foodservice Leader of the Year became clear, I could only think of the message so boldly revealed in the motivational message.
In 2008, Tom Meyer, executive vice president of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, received the award. In 2009, the honor went to a trio of individuals David Wizenberg, Gus DiMillo and Jeff Tunks who have made the restaurants of Passion Food Hospitality a model for hospitality success and expansion. Last year, FSM recognized the leadership role of Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.
I first met Todd and Ellen Gray in the mid-1990’s when he was the chef de cuisine for Roberto Donna at Galileo and Ellen was the sales person for the elite chefs of DC while first working for Sysco and then for International Gourmet. Ellen was and is the tireless promoter and in those days it meant signing up Todd for endless cooking demonstrations and classes as they looked for their eventual first dining room that turned out to be Equinox.
Since they opened in May 17, 1999, they have been unwavering in their restaurant’s recognition of and respect for nature’s resources – Equinox is a regional and seasonal experience. In a 2002 interview in the first issue of Foodservice Monthly they referred to the Equinox cooking philosophy as always “keeping with the earth’s natural tempo” and “staying true to the changing seasons.” That statement rings true today.
Todd and Ellen Gray are modern partners working daily for a balance between marriage, their restaurant, family and personal goals and dreams. The year they opened Equinox, Ellen gave birth to their son Harrison.
As many of the leading restaurateurs, their charity work gives them a ubiquitous persona in the neighborhoods: their 10th Annual Sugar & Champagne event February 1, 2011, Washington Humane Society; Fair Fund; Chefs Move to School; Oyster Shell Recovery Program and so many other appearances for all segments of the community “from our temple to our schools.”
When I sat down with them recently in their newly remodeled Equinox, Ellen and Todd listed a host of projects in the works including: a book, a new restaurant Todd Gray’s Watershed within a hotel in the neighborhood of NoMa complete with conference space, the International Trade Center’s CHoP Farmers Market and working with the International Wine and Food Festival on events throughout the year promoting the food, chefs of DC and the festival.
Todd has become (with Market Salamander) one of the four exclusive caterers to the new Arena Stage. He is also one of the key players in the Chefs Move to School Campaign - Todd has adopted three schools and is doing demos regularly at all three. In November, Todd and Ellen purchased a catering company which will help advance their small but growing catering side business … in effect doubling their size for off premise work.
That doesn’t count the projects that are in the works but cannot be talked about at this time … that’s a definite “stay tuned” in 2011.
Over the years, the duo has collected a slew of awards and honors including RAMMYS for Best New Restaurant, Ellen for Manager of the Year and Equinox for Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year. I asked last year’s Foodservice Leader of the Year Lynne Breaux about the Grays, “Ellen and Todd Gray are one could say a match made in heaven, and for that the DC region and savvy travelers are indeed fortunate.”
Breaux continued, “They incorporated seasonal, sustainable, local food practices before it was cool (before many even knew the words) featuring creative and innovative cuisine in their restaurant. The Grays are well deserving of FSM’s 2011 Foodservice Leaders of the Year honor: they are true leaders, working with the White House Health Kids Initiative, adopting the Murch School to pass on their invaluable expertise on all things food and restaurants to the DC Public school kids and an overall tremendous sense of giving to the community. Congratulations to Ellen and Todd and all their loyal staff.”
As the seasons move through their natural travel as the earth spins and revolves around the sun, a small, independent restaurant in Washington D.C. celebrates the journey each and every day with the energy, collective vision and talent of Ellen and Todd Gray.
For the complete article with pictures, you can: Download FSM Gray 0111