Soon after Ian Hilton breezes into the Gibson on a sunny afternoon, he issues a gentle warning: “It’s going to be next to impossible to get an interview with Eric.” He means his brother, with whom he co-owns this 14th Street speak-easy, the restaurant Marvin next door and four other District nightspots.
That’s because Eric has another gig, one for which he is best known: as half of Thievery Corporation, the Grammy-winning duo that weaves reggae and world music into loungey electronica. And just as the band is a loose collective (guest musicians and vocalists gravitate in and out depending on the album, song and tour), the Hilton brothers involve various family members and business partners in their efforts to build a mini empire of restaurants with the same laid-back vibe as the band’s music.
Eric is the idea guy and Ian the businessman; both have an easygoing manner that belies the fact that they have been busier than ever. They plan to open three restaurants by the end of this year: the Brixton, at the corner of Ninth and U streets Northwest; another in what was formerly Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks on Georgia Avenue; and a spot that’s coming along next to Marvin (working name: Blackbird Warehouse). It will make for quite a year, one in which they also have opened Patty Boom Boom, invested in the new U Street Music Hall and advised Eric’s wife, Tien Claudio, and partner Steve Kaufmann on the recently opened Dickson Wine Bar.
The brothers have 200 full-time employees working for their projects, but “it’s not corporate,” says Ian, 38. “We don’t want to corner the market. We’re a family-owned shop.” They don’t advertise, and they don’t pay for PR.