- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2002

Todd Thrasher says he eats out at fine restaurants in the Washington area frequently to find out what the competition is preparing.
"I like to go out and enjoy great food and great wine and then get an idea of how I can better serve that to our customers" at Signatures, a D.C. boutique-dining establishment at 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, where Mr. Thrasher is the new general manager.
Mr. Thrasher, 32, heads up the front operations of the restaurant in collaboration with Morou Ouattara, the executive chef. His job entails selecting the appropriate wines, keeping the other managers on schedule, coordinating the menu and overseeing the restaurant's budget.
Mr. Thrasher had similar responsibilities as senior manager at Cafe Atlantico, where he worked for five years, helping to make the restaurant one of the leading establishments in the District.
While working at Cafe Atlantico, Mr. Thrasher, a sommelier, developed an extensive wine list that highlighted South American specialty wines. To collaborate with Signature's food, he has shifted his wine list to boutique wines from the Southern Hemisphere, primarily from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
"Morou has a lot of French flavor from his time on the Ivory Coast in West Africa," he said. "I would rather match that with a Cabernet from South Africa than a Bordeaux from France because the wine is more fun and it suits our non-stuffy atmosphere."
Mr. Thrasher said he hopes to bring Cafe Atlantico's success to Signatures, which has had stagnant customer traffic since its opening in March. The prices of entrees have been reduced to attract customers.
"When we first opened here, our Kaytobi steak entree was $70 and it was an item that made us seem like we were courting only the upper-end crowd," Mr. Thrasher said.
Mr. Thrasher said he has reduced the price of Kaytobi steak and other entrees so the average dinner would cost $150 per couple.
Mr. Thrasher said the biggest challenge besides adjusting to slower business has been marketing the restaurant's cuisine to customers outside the federal government.
"We live and die by Congress like a lot of restaurants here do, but I'm trying to change it where all demographics the young and the older crowds are eating side by side," he said. "Part of that will come with having reasonable prices and a relaxed atmosphere."
Mr. Ouattara said Mr. Thrasher's joining has allowed him to focus less on the management details and more on developing new recipes.
"It's very hard for a chef to find a manager that he can work with to the point that every decision doesn't need to be discussed at length," Mr. Ouattara said.
While Mr. Thrasher hopes to open another Washington restaurant with Mr. Ouattara in the future, he says his main focus will be expanding Signatures' returning clientele.
"I'm hoping to get more regulars who spend $60 to $75 each visit than a patron who spends $300 maybe once or twice a year on special occasions," he said.
Mr. Thrasher lives in Arlington with his fiancee, Maria Chicas.

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