Before creating Knead Hospitality + Design restaurant group, husband-and-founder duo Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin worked in the restaurant industry for practically their entire careers. In 2015, they decided to open their first restaurant, Succotash, a Southern concept, in National Harbor, Maryland. “You spend a lot of your career learning from other people, learning from other companies and other concepts and eventually, for those of us that have the entrepreneurial bug in common, just want to see if you can do it yourself instead of doing it for other people,” says Berry.
Eight years later, the Washington, D.C.-based restaurant group has 21 restaurants under its umbrella. Despite the pandemic, Knead was able to add nine new stores in 2021 and more than double its company size from 300 to over 700 employees. This year, Knead has already taken over food at a second Swingers location in Washington, D.C. The international mini-golf concept has four fast-casual concepts: Kneadza Pizza, tuTACO, Lil’ Succotash, and Mah Ze Dahr.
Headquarters: Washington D.C.
Types of Cuisine: Mexican, French, Tex Mex, Southern
Current Number of Locations: 20
Founders’ Names: Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin
Year established: 2015
The restaurant group is also working on expanding its upscale concepts, starting with the opening of its third MI VIDA location—a Mexican eatery concept that Berry and Reginbogin created in collaboration with celebrity chef Roberto Santibañez. Plus, this summer, the restaurateurs will open the second location of Bistro Du Jour, serving pastries and simple French dishes, such as French onion soup and steak frites.
Prior to co-founding Knead, Berry was the COO of Rosa Mexicano, a Mexican restaurant based in New York with locations across the East Coast. When Berry was on business trips, he would visit Rosa locations around Washington D.C. with his husband, and both of them fell in love with the city. “The more and more we talked about doing our own thing and opening our own restaurant, we thought that D.C. was a perfect mix of a big little city,” Berry says.
“With Maryland and Virginia and D.C. together, it’s a huge metropolitan area that’s very intertwined. We felt that the restaurant scene here was mature enough that we could be a part of something special, but not so mature like Paris or Chicago or New York, or L.A. that it would be hard to make a name for ourselves. We thought D.C. would be a really good city that we loved, and also one that would welcome us if we were successful. And it worked out,” he adds.
Knead is now looking to expand outside of Washington D.C. and is currently negotiating leases in Northern Virginia and Boston. “Now that we’re established, we feel a little more comfortable growing in cities that are maybe a little bigger,” Berry explains. “You need that density, and you need that volume in order to survive. So if we’re going to start growing, we’ve got to pick locations that are going to be in high-volume, high-traffic areas.”
Berry adds that although Virginia Beach is not a big city, Knead is looking to expand in the market due to its demand for upscale concepts. “We don’t have a goal in terms of city size; it really just has to make sense from a deal perspective as well as a demographic perspective. Can this neighborhood [and] can this city support this restaurant so that it’s successful? And that’s sort of the criteria and the standard.”
Having lived near the DuPont area of Washington D.C., Berry had always loved the location and envisioned opening a restaurant there someday. During the pandemic, a space became available and he opened Mi Casa, a Tex-Mex concept. With 10 concepts under the portfolio now, the restaurant group owners prefer to expand existing restaurants, but Berry says he’s still open to debuting new concepts if the location calls for it.
Last year, Knead Hospitality also turned its attention to employee wellness and retention. Currently, the team is testing a four-day workweek for its salaried managers and chefs. By implementing this perk, employees who qualify are only required to be in their restaurant four days a week, and any work they have left over can be done remotely.
Along with a shorter work week, Knead is implementing a reimbursement program for their employees called Life + Style. The system consists of categories that Berry and Reginbogin believe are beneficial for a balanced lifestyle, including going to the gym, purchasing clothing, dry cleaning, dining at other restaurants, and entertainment like concerts and the movie theater. Berry describes it as a “use it or lose it” system, meaning the amount of money for reimbursement can only be used for the items in that specific category. Employees receive benefits based on position and length of employment.
“Hopefully if people use those things and have a little bit more fun and balance outside of their work life, then they’re happier at work,” Berry says. About 100 employees at Knead Hospitality qualify for these benefits so far.
When asked what it’s like to work with his husband of 25 years, Berry says he wishes he had drama to share. To his surprise, they have been successful in creating their business and he says it’s because of shared interests. Leaning on their different strengths in the industry, Berry mostly deals with finances, while Reginbogin focuses on design and aesthetics. That means their conversations are never dull, Berry notes, adding that they respect each other’s responsibilities and come together to make big decisions about Knead. Berry admits that sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between their work and personal life, and believes that success with his partner is not the rule and wouldn’t want to lead anyone astray by recommending it.
“We really live and breathe the restaurant business, so the fact that we’re both running this company together means we have a lot in common,” Berry adds. “We have a lot to talk about.”