Ari Gejdenson Dissolves Mindful Restaurants Group

Torri Donley

Before the pandemic, restaurateur Ari Gejdenson‘s Mindful Restaurants Group had a robust portfolio of restaurants in different pockets of D.C. Some have subsequently closed, including Acqua Al 2 in Eastern Market, which served Italian food for a decade, along with its sidekick bar Harold Black. Ghibellina and Sotto also closed […]


Before the pandemic, restaurateur Ari Gejdenson‘s Mindful Restaurants Group had a robust portfolio of restaurants in different pockets of D.C. Some have subsequently closed, including Acqua Al 2 in Eastern Market, which served Italian food for a decade, along with its sidekick bar Harold Black. Ghibellina and Sotto also closed on 14th Street NW. 

But Gejdenson wasn’t going to give up on his remaining restaurants, so he made an outside-the-box decision to dissolve his restaurant group and turn over the keys to the rest of his eateries to long-tenured employees of the company. He remains a silent partner and investor.

“It’s not realistic to have a restaurant group with a high level of overhead to do sales that have small margins,” Gejdenson explains. Having spent time in Italy, the former professional soccer player thinks the owner-operator model common in Europe is the secret to surviving the pandemic while keeping the most people employed. The idea is for a lean team to crank through tough times.

“I found the best leaders of the managers and the chefs to take over as owner-operators,” Gejdenson says. “The same person opens the doors, closes the doors, possibly makes your food and serves it to your table. When it gets busier they can readjust and rehire. We used to employ more than 200 people. This will bring us down to probably 40 to 50 people. Keeping 25 percent of people employed right now opens a pipeline to getting it back going.” 

A handful of Washingtonians are now first-time restaurant owners at a time when leading a restaurant is harder than ever. They’re up to the challenge. “I’m confident,” says Francesco Farella, one of three new owners of Ghibellina, which reopened in Ivy City at 2000 Fenwick St. NE, where Via used to be. “I know who I am. I know how strong I can be. From now on it can only be better.” 

Farella worked as a manager at Ghibellina’s original location before being promoted to the director of service for Mindful Restaurants Group. He has 32 years of experience in the restaurant industry and moved to the U.S. from his home city of Rome 15 years ago. Lady Abarca and her husband, Danis Blanco, co-own the restaurant with Farella. 

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