Paul Cohn, who started J. Paul’s Dining Saloon at M Street in 1983, is departing Capital Restaurant Concepts, a company he co-founded with Bechara Nammour in 1984 that grew to include J. Paul’s, Paolo’s, Neyla, Old Glory and Georgia Brown’s as well as the since-closed River Club and Club Zei. The group also runs the Paul Bakeries in D.C.
Friends, fellow workers, politicians and food industry lobbyists held a surprise farewell party Dec. 30 on Cohn’s next-to-last day as senior executive officer of Capital Restaurant Concepts at — what else? — the back room of J. Paul’s.
Cohn, originally from Baltimore, started out as a manager for singers Peaches and Herb in the 1970s. With his restaurants in Georgetown and downtown D.C., he became influential in local politics as well as instrumental in establishing the Georgetown Business Improvement District and other business and non-profit initiatives.
There were some toasts and a little bit of ribbing from admirers. “Paul put the ‘Paul’ in J. Paul’s and the ‘Paul’ in Paolo’s,” said Leonard Hellebuyck, area director for Capital Restaurant Concepts. “And the ‘old’ in Old Glory.”
Longtime friend and former D.C. council member Charlene Drew Jarvis spoke of how Cohn is a friend for forever and how she would probably see him more in this new chapter of his life. One realizes, Jarvis said, “There’s a whole other life after what you’ve been doing.”
Advisory neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels, who worked with Cohn on liquor license agreements and the community, joked that during their discussions Cohn could be “more nuanced than Bill Clinton.” Commissioner Ed Solomon cited Cohn as “critical to the BID” and “a voice of reason.”
As for Cohn, he is not quite retiring. He wants to devote his time to creating another new restaurant — and to working on Cohn’s Kitchen, a non-profit that teaches underprivileged students culinary skills.
“I know what I’m leaving behind,” Cohn said. “I want to do it again.”
Cohn has started a new company called — close enough? — Creative Restaurant Concepts, which will launch a new restaurant, Boss Shepherd’s, in the Warner Theater building at 13th Street, NW, and Pennsylvania Avenue in April 2014. Alexander Robey Shepherd was the governor of the District of Columbia in 1873 and is widely seen as the father of modern Washington, D.C.
Cohn will remain with his former company as an advisor and on the board of the Georgetown BID.