Ari Gejdenson, Founder & President

By the time Ari Gejdenson was 22, he had opened his first restaurant and lived on three different continents. It began when he was 16 and was scouted playing soccer in his hometown of Washington D.C. He picked up his life and moved to Bolivia to play. From there he moved to Chile, and eventually to Europe, where he settled in Florence while playing in Ronta and San Gimignano.

While still playing soccer, Ari began to explore other business opportunities. He saw a niche to explore in the market; a lack of late night food, something to soak up the Chianti and Vin Santo for Florentines and American visitors and students. At a time when ‘Happy Days’ was still widely broadcast in Florence, he opened Ari’s Diner, a classic American-style diner.

Around the corner from the diner resided Acqua al 2, a restaurant of such status that the line snaked around the street, eventually running into the line that began to form for the diner. The owner of AA2, Stefano Innocenti invited the young upstart to learn cooking at his restaurant. A partnership was then born. Ari retired from soccer, age 26, and began to plan opening an arm of Acqua al 2 in Washington DC.

At the time, opening a restaurant on Capitol Hill seemed like a gamble. Eastern Market was still in its post-fire dormancy and there were very few restaurants on the Hill. However, this was Ari’s home turf, having grown up just a few blocks away, and he saw an opportunity to bring fine Italian dining, warm service, and hospitality to the neighborhood.

In 2010 Ari and his wife Stacy began Mindful Restaurant Group. They opened Harold Black, a speakeasy named for Ari’s grandfather, above Acqua al 2. They were one of the pioneers of the changing 14th Street corridor when they opened Ghibellina, named after the street Ari lived on in Florence. Growth continued with Denson Liquor Bar in Penn Quarter, and Sotto, underneath Ghibellina on 14th Street.

Not only does Ari open beautifully-built restaurants, with consistently top-notch food and service, but he does it with responsibility to the community. He brings energy and opportunity to less-served areas of the city. In late 2016 he continued that trend by opening three new restaurants in Ivy City, being one of the first restaurateurs to bring full service dining to Ward 5.

Ari’s passion for restaurants extends beyond the four walls of his establishments. He is a member of the board of directors of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), where he advocates on behalf of DC restaurants. On the well-earned day off, he spends time with his family. He also finds time to revisit his first passion, soccer, in recreational leagues across the city.