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Spike on Going From Top Chef to Good Stuff

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

“I grew up around restaurants and food. My parents were restaurateurs and we moved between Montreal, Europe, and Florida for their work. As a kid, I didn’t want to go into the business. I grew up seeing my family work the long hours and weekends, and I was more into marine biology and film. I tried pursuing those things, but I eventually got sucked into the restaurant business. At first, I was resentful because while all of my friends were out on jet skis in Florida, I was washing dishes for my parents. But, those experiences molded me and made me who I am.

To me, H Street and U Street look more like Brooklyn every day.

“After working for my parents, I took off to go travelling and then went off to pursue cooking in New York. I was doing well up there and making a name for myself. At the same time, I was dirt poor and sleeping in any girl’s bed or couch that I could find. When Top Chef came around, it was an incredible opportunity that really helped to launch my career. Honestly, Top Chef afforded me the opportunity for everything that I have now. At the same time, the show also put a lot of pressure on me. Before this, I was just a kitchen rat making a name for myself in New York. I could be elusive and people were not as critical. Once you get on TV, you get amazing opportunities, but also you open yourself to criticism. That was okay for me because I keep my family around to keep me grounded and help me stay on point.

“After the show, my sister found the location for Good Stuff and called me up in New York and told me to get my ass down here. I was thinking about doing something on my own in New York City, but my parents wanted to get back in the business. We hadn’t all lived in the same city for many years, so we decided to give it a shot here in D.C. We came up with Good Stuff because my family had a hamburger place at the World’s Fair in 1992 in Spain. We got the name from my grandfather. Whenever we were together and something exciting happened, he would give a hockey pump and say, ‘ That’s Good Stuff!’ We wanted to dedicate the restaurant to him after he passed away.

“When I used to visit my sister here, there was such a huge food void in this city. I remember coming to visit her and seeing that the food culture was so bad here, especially on this block where Good Stuff and We, The Pizza are now. Everyone was concentrating on politics and it seemed like food was not that important. Obviously, things changed in part due to the new administration. The Obamas showed that they were interested in local food and brought a lot of young people to the city. That did a lot for the food culture here. Many chefs came here and then more wanted to come. The food scene has really developed in the last four years. To me, H Street and U Street look more like Brooklyn every day.

“With time, I have really come to love this city. New York is over saturated with too many concepts. You may be popular for two weeks, and then there is a new trend. Here, I opened one restaurant, Good Stuff, that developed my entire career. It is nice to be in a second-tier city where you can be a big fish in a small pond. And, because this is Washington, you can also feel like you can help change the world and impact the community rather than just flip burgers. Here, I am involved with Michelle Obama’s food initiatives and can help local kids and schools learn about food. I never would have had the time or opportunity to do that in New York.

“After a few years here, I am finally finding balance in my life. When I got here, all I did was work. Now, I can take some time and enjoy the city and walk around and see the place. Doing that helps me love this city a little more every day.”

Spike Mendelsohn is the Chef/Owner of Good Stuff Eatery and We, The Pizza.

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  1. Nice! Though I’m not sure if the comments about our “second-tier city” are supposed to be back-handed compliments or not…

    Comment by Steve D — May 11, 2011 @ 11:30 am

  2. “second-tier city”

    “big fish in a small pond”

    methinks the little boy needs to get a new hat, because his ego is getting a little too big for the ratty thing perched on his head.

    Comment by IMGoph — May 11, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  3. Second-tier city? Well, don’t you worry Spike, I’ll spend my second-tier money elsewhere then.

    Comment by GM — May 11, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

  4. I’m a Washingtonian born and bred, but let’s be accurate — by population size we aren’t even among the top 20 cities in the US or the top 50 globally. Whatever our significance on the global political scene, when it comes to things like restaurants it’s fair to say we’re second-tier.

    Comment by Molly W. — May 11, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  5. Oh relax people. while some comments are douchy, calling DC a second-tier city, IN TERMS OF FOOD, should not create such a stir. or surprise. and who the hell doesn’t wanna be a big fish in a small pond? chill out, he is someone continuously vouching for this city and all of its offerings, culinary or not.

    Comment by LU — May 11, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  6. Jesus, what a bunch of whiny idiots. Yes, DC IS a “second-tier” city, compared to the big dogs, in terms of size and restaurant industry prestige. That’s not an insult, but a fact, and Mendelsohn is not trying to denigrate DC by saying so. He’s speaking as a huge supporter of DC’s influence getting bigger, not smaller: so attacking an ally in that, the fight to win DC more reknown, is the height of stupidity.

    Comment by Drew — May 11, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  7. It is funny that he rates DC a second-tier city, because the ironically named “Good Stuff” eatery is a third-tier restaurant. Can you overdose from sodium? Because I have never eaten a saltier greasier burger in my life. And is it good stuff because everything on that menu is going to speed you down the highway to type two Diabetes? I really think, judging only by Good Stuff, that is the most overrated restaurant I’ve been to in DC. And hello, no good food in this city? There has been great food in this city in the 16 years I’ve been here. Perhaps Spike would realize this if he bothered to get to know DC instead of keeping his head stuck somewhere else.

    Comment by jonna — May 11, 2011 @ 4:11 pm

  8. Mr. Mendelsohn should watch his words. DC has grown significantly in the last few years, but it had quite a lot to offer before he arrived. I disagree entirely that it is a “second-tier” city. I think Mr. Mendelsohn is giving himself a little too much credit and not enough to those who came before him.

    Comment by Marie — May 11, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  9. @Drew I don’t think DC needs to be renown, we need to have healthy food options and people who realize that the small nature of our city is an asset. That said, I feel you on M. not trying to denigrate the city by calling it second-tier, but only referring to it’s size from a business perspective. OK. Good Suff is still salty and super unhealthy. Luckily, I know of a lot of great places to eat in this city, some that are not even on U or H St.

    Comment by jonna — May 11, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

  10. It’s the 7th largest metro area in the country.

    Comment by Nick — May 11, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  11. My friends, we need to embrace the fact that DC is barely a 2nd tier city. I don’t judge this man for speaking the truth. Don’t get pissed at him, get pissed at this city for being so mediocre.

    Comment by Bill — May 11, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

  12. I think that the most recent James Beard Award winner is the big fish in our second-tier pond. The pizza and burger guy just happened to be on tv…

    Comment by eric — May 11, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

  13. Give the guy some credit. He is helping to build the food movement in this city. Spike, don’t listen to these fools I love your food.

    Comment by Chris — May 11, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

  14. Huh, I’ve heard a bit about this Spike character so it’s nice to see what he looks like.

    I’m not insulted by the second tier remark– DC always felt more like a town than a big city to me, and I consider that a good thing. What rubbed me the wrong way is Spike’s comment about a new food era being sworn in with the Obamas. He really hasn’t spent much time in DC, outside of his restaurants, if he honestly thinks that the current Presidential family has any influence on DC’s culture (foodwise or otherwise).

    Comment by Caroline — May 11, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

  15. I suspect that whether you think DC is “second-tier” or not depends on your personal history (i.e., Whether you’ve lived and dined extensively in a “first-tier” city).

    The whole “Things changed due to the Obama administration” comment is annoying Please. Um, he’s only been POTUS for 3 years. DC’s restaurant scene was on a good trajectory long before Obama arrived.

    Comment by Ted — May 11, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

  16. 2nd tier. Please this city is lucky if it is in the 4th tier for restaurants. There are some nice expensive places to eat, but youll be hard priced to find anything good for $12 a plate. There remains a huge food. And rather than support people coming here and trying to do good, the usual commenting assholes just go on criticizing people trying to do good. Keep arguing about what tier we are in. I am going to NY to find some real food!

    Comment by Newtown — May 11, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

  17. […] by […]

    Pingback by Spike on Going From Top Chef to Good Stuff | Mobile Food News — May 11, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

  18. […] Hill’s own Spike Mendelsohn is the subject of today’s People’s District. Incidentally, if you’re not reading Danny Harris’s amazing blog, you should. In the interview, […]

    Pingback by DC: Get Over Yourself, Mr. Mendelsohn | Mobile Food News — May 11, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

  19. There is no reason to get up in arms over his comments. His comments are not a backhanded complimenty. They are fact. Maybe he is not a big fish but DC is certainly a little pond compared to other cities. If you don’t believe this, then you are truly dilusional.

    @ Nick – It’s the 24th largest city in the US when specifically talking about city limits. Why would you bother counting the entire metro area when it is not truly DC.

    Comment by Mike — May 12, 2011 @ 10:23 am

  20. Bob Kinkead, Anne Cashion, Roberto Donna, Jeff Buben, Eric Ziebold, RJ Cooper, Frank Ruta, Jose Andres were all winners of the James Beard award prior to the Obama administration. (possible exception of Eric Ziebold, who won in 2008, but is included as the Obama administration was in it’s infancy at the time…) And this list doesn’t even include the names of those DC chefs that have been nominated (like 5 time nominee Todd Gray)

    Comment by SamEatsDC — May 12, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  21. @Eric – Well said. While DC surely does not rank with NY or Chicago (or San Francisco, for that matter) in terms of food, this guy’s hubris is laughable. I went to Good Stuff once and that was all I needed. The burgers were very mediocre and I felt like I’d eaten a rock afterward. As many others have said , he doesn’t make the best burgers in town, much less the best food. If he wants to be a “big fish,” he needs to try a third or fouth-tier city. It’s a sad commentary that being on TV now brings unwarranted celebrity to middling businesses (I’m looking at you Georgetown Cupcakes) and real achievements don’t get enough attention.

    Comment by The Heights — May 12, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  22. Regardless of whether DC is a second tier city, or a big or small pond, Spike is hardly a big fish.

    Comment by anon — May 12, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

  23. […] Mendelsohn described his personal history and his struggles to grow. Then, the chef began to discuss the differences between New York City and Washington DC (always dangerous territory): “Here, I opened one […]

    Pingback by Spike Mendelsohn’s Huge Gaffe — May 12, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

  24. I don’t think any ranking of cities into “tiers” can be anything other than subjective.

    The burgers at Good Stuff are delicious though, and they are some of the best in town, although my money on best burgers goes to Ray’s Hell Burger.

    Comment by Chris F. — May 12, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  25. […] Things Over: Oh, Spike Mendelsohn. He is clarifying his D.C.-is-a-second-tier-city comments that have gotten him into trouble this week. "There is nothing secondary about DC in my mind," says […]

    Pingback by Quick Feeding: One Good Reason to Tip Your Starbucks Barista - Young & Hungry - Washington City Paper — May 12, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

  26. @all of you, why would you care or comment after reading this- Go away, Spike.

    Comment by Margaret — May 12, 2011 @ 10:04 pm

  27. I concur with Spike, DC is a second tier “town” with country bumpkins abound. And speaking of good food, this town is lacking great restaurants. Can’t think of one that stays in business or offer great food for more than a year. Name five cities where food is better in DC. Better yet, name one great Italian restaurant and one great deli or breakfast joint in DC?

    Comment by Jay — May 13, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

  28. Spike was arrogant and narcisstic on the show, so why would we expect anything different now? He is just spouting to get any kind of attention he can for his restaurant. But, if his restaurant is anything like his personality, I don’t think it will last very long.

    Comment by Gayle Marie — May 13, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

  29. […] a greasy meat spatula for speaking his mind in a public forum and daring to imply that he’s a “big fish in a small pond,” but here’s the bottom line: He’s correct, or mostly correct, on both […]

    Pingback by In defense of Spike Mendelsohn | — May 13, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

  30. The “District of Columbia” is a small (68 square mile – much of it parkland and Federal property) part of the DC metro area. The District proper is just slightly larger than the Bronx, so think the Upper West Side + the Bronx if you want to compare apples to apples.
    As a whole, the DC metro area is the wealthiest and smartest in the country: the nation’s highest percentage of residents with college degrees and 6 of the 10 richest counties in U.S. are in DC area. The DC metro area attacks smart people who want to run the world, not those who aspire to feed or entertain us.

    Comment by Michael — May 15, 2011 @ 4:22 am

  31. The “District of Columbia” is a small (68 square mile – much of it parkland and Federal property) part of the DC metro area. The District proper is just slightly larger than the Bronx, so think the Upper West Side + the Bronx if you want to compare apples to apples.
    As a whole, the DC metro area is the wealthiest and smartest in the country: the nation’s highest percentage of residents with college degrees and 6 of the 10 richest counties in U.S. are in DC area. The DC metro area attracts smart people who want to run the world, not those who aspire to feed or entertain us.

    Comment by Michael — May 15, 2011 @ 4:26 am

  32. Hey folks, the “District of Columbia” per se is second tier – even within the DC metro area. DC is basically a dysfunctional enclave surrounded by the wealthiest and smartest residential areas in the world (as noted: the nation’s highest percentage of residents with college degrees and 6 of the 10 richest counties in U.S. are in DC metro area – but NOT DC).

    Comment by Wise Person — May 15, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  33. […] here’s a great thought provoking little article I came across today.  With all the talk of DC being a 2nd tier city and whatnot, we seem to be internalizing the hyperbole at alarming rates (so much so we may have lost touch […]

    Pingback by hoi polloi versus the hoytie toytie | Supper in the City — May 16, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

  34. I would love to see DC become even more of a food town than it is now. Maybe arts, fashion, and music will follow! PS – I love Spike-burgers!

    Comment by ArchiTryg — May 17, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

  35. Boring. Let’s talk about something interesting.

    Comment by Chris — May 17, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

  36. […] Our readers took offense, and they let us know as much during the Gurus’ chat: “‘Big fish in a small pond’…vomit. I’d be ok if our pond had one less particular fish.” [People’s District] […]

    Pingback by Feeds & Reads: Spike Mendelsohn’s big-fish complex | Punk Till I Die – — May 18, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  37. […] in front of the Sixth and I Synagogue at 11:30am. It will be crowded, but since Spike “DC is a second-tier city” Mendelsohn is managing, it’ll also be delicious. Follow them on Twitter for updated […]

    Pingback by The Week of May 18, 2011 | In The Distract — May 18, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

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    Comment by Julie — September 22, 2012 @ 10:54 pm

  40. […] you remember that time when Spike Mendelsohn called DC a second tier city for food? Some of us vehemently defended DC as a top culinary capitol, while others like […]

    Pingback by BrightestYoungThings – DC – Inside The Seasonal Pantry — November 12, 2012 @ 9:51 pm

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