Carlie Steiner: The cocktail maven of Petworth's Himitsu

Carlie Steiner, co-owner of Himitsu at 828 Upshur St NW. (photo: Carlie Steiner)

This is the next story in a series about the women entrepreneurs and business owners along Upshur Street in Petworth. Join us as we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th with a special community event free for the whole family.

by Yuliya Panfil

When I meet Carlie Steiner, co-owner of the critically acclaimed restaurant Himitsu at 828 Upshur St NW, she is staggering under the weight of an improbably large and improbably bulky box of wine bottles. The wine in these bottles, which she is carrying from the trunk of her car to the hallway of her pint-sized restaurant, was all produced by women.

It’s a small point, but it exemplifies the degree to which Steiner is committed to promoting women: every wine at Himitsu is either made by a woman or comes from a woman-owned winery.

“It’s not to take away the ability to sell wine by men,” Steiner says. “It’s just that I want to showcase these incredible wines made by women.”

Of the women I interviewed for these series, Steiner is the most outspoken and unapologetic feminist. Her wines are female, her staff is free to kick sleazy men out of the restaurant at will, and she doesn’t care if you don’t like it.

“You can be hospitable and still stand up for yourself,” she says.

That’s a lot of wisdom for a 27-year old… Steiner opened Himitsu, named one of the 50 Best New Restaurants in the country, when she was just 25.

Here is Steiner’s approach: when male patrons are rude or grabby with her staff, her staff is empowered to kick those people out, no questions asked, and without needing an OK from management. That means an upending of the usual “customer is always right” mantra.

“I have a tight policy that the staff comes first,” Steiner explains. “I’m here to protect my staff, and my staff is here to protect my guests.”

Despite her age, Steiner is a veteran of DC’s food scene. She started her career as a bartender at Jose AndresBarmini in 2013, and then moved to Andres’ Oyamel, where she met Himitsu’s chef and co-owner, Kevin Tien (Steiner handles the drinks side of the house). She and Tien were originally supposed to open a space in Union Market, but the deal fell through and concurrently a postage-sized space opened up in Steiner’s neighborhood, Petworth.

Carlie Steiner and Kevin Tien (photo courtesy Laura Hayes WCP).

“I had always been living in and around Petworth, and I wanted to do a concept like the Red Hen, a restaurant in a low key, residential area,” Steiner says.

The opening on Upshur fit the bill, and within 30 days of signing the lease, Himitsu had opened.

Now that Himitsu is established, both Steiner and Tien are looking to open new concepts. Tien has announced that he is opening Emilies in Capitol Hill this spring. Steiner is more circumspect about her plans, but hints that she’s eyeing a wine concept.

At the ripe old age of 27, Steiner sees herself as a bit of an old hand and mentor - both to her staff and other women in the field. She says that even six years ago, women in DC’s restaurant scene were fiercely competitive with one another, because there was only room for one woman at a time to “sit at the table.”

Now, she says, there’s space for women to build each other up by asking a different question: “How do we build new chairs?”

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