DC restaurateur Jackie Greenbaum (Little Coco’s, El Chucho, Quarry House, Slash Run and Bar Charley) confesses that she’s a former punk rocker, whose life took an unconventional path after she attended a concert by The Ramones.
In the height of her rebellious days in the early 1980s, she lived in a rooftop apartment above the 9:30 Club. The stairwell was adorned with spray paint and a black lightbulb, and her apartment door had to be secured with a padlock. Her mother cried at the sight of it, and her mother “wasn’t a crier,” says Greenbaum. It’s not difficult to picture Greenbaum looking tough, with teased-up hair and punk attire. She still has an edgy quality that serves her well as a no-nonsense, prolific entrepreneur.
What you don’t expect to hear from Greenbaum is that she carries her Hadassah lifetime membership card in her wallet. She grew up in Wheaton and Chevy Chase, belonged to B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG), went to dances at the JCC and enjoyed accompanying her mother to charity events such as Hadassah’s Book and Author Luncheons. She fondly reminisces about her family’s affiliation with Montgomery County’s tight-knit Jewish community, which she refers to as the Jewish “jet set.”
Greenbaum’s mother converted to Judaism, and became “though not in the most traditional way, the most religious in the family,” she says. “My mother took it much more seriously than if she was born into it. She tagged along with my bubbe, she was very close with her and she learned how to make gefilte fish from scratch. I was their only daughter, so luckily a lot of her skills and traditions were passed on to me. I remember going to Snyder and Katz’s to get ingredients for the holidays. It was a lot of fun.”
While Greenbaum’s punk-rock phase alienated her from family and friends for a period of time, she learned to be independent and follow her instincts. After college, she joined her father’s real estate company. She had a knack for the business, and while seeking new office space for the company, she discovered the building in downtown Silver Spring that would eventually become Jackie’s Restaurant. She was attracted to the warehouse-like space, which induced memories of her rock-and-roll past. Greenbaum knew nothing about the restaurant business, but with her grit and determination helped build Jackie’s Restaurant into a success.
The restaurant became a dining destination in Silver Spring when it opened in 2004. When it ultimately closed in March 2016, Greenbaum focused on the other restaurants in Goodbar Management Group, which she runs with business partner Gordon Banks. This includes Little Coco’s, a modern Italian restaurant on 14th Street. The executive chef at Little Coco’s is Adam Harvey, who served as executive chef at Jackie’s from mid-2013 until the restaurant closed. Harvey is also Jewish.
Together, Greenbaum and Harvey collaborate on special events with a nod to their heritage. This year Little Coco’s hosted a Rosh Hashanah dinner featuring a traditional menu with modern twists on matzah ball soup, brisket, roast chicken and apple honey cake.
She and Harvey have just announced a pop-up Chanukah bar at Little Coco’s called Eight Crazy Nights. Events will feature Chanukah movies, karaoke, dreidel and a piñata filled with gelt. The menu will include butternut squash potato latkes, brisket sliders, house-made donuts and cocktails with names like “Goldie Hawnukah,” “Borscht Beltway” and “I’ll Take Jewish Rap Stars for $1,000.”
Planning special events with a Jewish flavor comes naturally to Greenbaum, and her mother’s influence is a key factor. “She taught me to be a really good hostess, how to create a menu, how things should be plated to look beautiful and how to get every detail right,” she recalls. “It’s not enough for the food to taste good. If you don’t like throwing a party, or enjoy laughing with people, you’re in the wrong business.”
Little Coco’s, El Chucho, Quarry House, Slash Run and Bar Charley are not kosher restaurants.