Entrepreneur Hakan Ilhan owns 21 successful fast casual eateries and gourmet markets in the Washington, D.C.-area, including Gelato Dolce Vita in Georgetown, three Cafe Cantinas, three Einstein Bros. Bagels shops, nine Pizza Autenticas, City Wok at Dulles Airport, and the National Airport Grill.
The Turkish native, who was educated in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1990, is now turning his sights to open a sleek, modern Italian restaurant in his own neighborhood of Northwest D.C., La Forchetta, at 3201 New Mexico Ave., 20016.
He engaged designer friend Matt Norris, of Norris Design in Atlanta, to create a Ferrari-like interior, with vibrant colors, an exhibition kitchen with seating for 20, and a pizza station with seating for 12 guests along with an inviting 12-seat bar.
La Forchetta is scheduled to open in late March/early April, 2012, and Ilhan has tapped Roberto Donna as executive chef of the new restaurant.
Donna’s responsibilities include developing the menu and doing what he does best–cooking–while Hakan Ilhan will manage all the business operations of the 116-seat restaurant, which will also have outdoor patio seating for 30 guests in the warmer months of the year.
Guests can anticipate Donna’s fresh, house-made pasta, risotto, fresh fish, and meat offerings, along with Italian desserts and a selection of gelato. La Forchetta will also showcase Neapolitan pizza from the restaurant’s centerpiece oven, and will open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch on both Saturday and Sunday.
“I was searching for several months for the right chef who is a master at Italian cooking and Roberto Donna came to mind,” Ilhan says. “I learned he was in Arizona and would like to return to Washington, so this works out well for opening La Forchetta.”
Born in the Piedmont region of Italy, Roberto Donna arrived in Washington, D.C., at the age of 19 from his native Torino, and in October 1984, he opened Galileo and gained a strong following. The addition of his Laboratorio and Osteria has made Chef Donna's restaurant a destination for those seeking the best in Italian cuisine.
“I will entrust Roberto with developing the perfect menu for the restaurant and training the culinary team to run the kitchen,” Ilhan says. “I will do what I do best, running the business operations.”
“Scottsdale, Arizona, was not a good fit for my family,” Donna says. “It is a personal decision and a difficult one to leave the Bice Group, which is a terrific company. Roberto Ruggeri is a great restaurateur and I admire him greatly, but I long to return to D.C.
“I left after making some bad decisions that have regrettable consequences, for which I am very sorry. I am pleased to be coming back to the city that really gave me my start with the opening of my first restaurant, Galileo, to cook for people who appreciate my food.”
Donna won the James Beard Award for “Best Chef/Mid-Atlantic Region” in 1996 and was also inducted into “The Fine Dining Hall of Fame, the Nation's Restaurant News, that same year. In 1997 he published his first cookbook, Cooking in Piedmont. Then in 2001, Donna won the “Immigrant Achievement Award”from The American Immigration Law Foundation.
Donna has been an active supporter of the DC Central Kitchen, the American Institute of Wine & Food, Share Our Strength, and The James Beard Foundation, as well as numerous other charitable organizations. He won “Chef of the Year” 2004 and in 1990 from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
“We plan on La Forchetta being a nice, affordably priced addition to the community, appealing to the neighborhood and the universities that are in close proximity,” Ilhan says.