JOHNNY SPERO, Chef and owner
After moving to the DC area in 2008 to work at a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, a colleague told Spero that Johnny Monis’ fine-dining flagship, Komi, was looking for kitchen help. There Spero learned that restaurants weren’t just about the food, but about the entire dining experience. He spent one year working in the savory part of the kitchen and one year working pastry, learning as much as he could along the way.
Never one to stay put for long, Spero applied to stage at Noma well before the restaurant was the global phenomenon it is today. In 2010 he completed an eye-opening two-month stage. The restaurant’s approach to sourcing and preparing ingredients completely changed the way Spero thought about cooking.
Upon returning to the U.S., Spero moved to small-town Chilhowie, VA in 2011 to work for chef John Shields at his acclaimed fine-dining restaurant, Town House. Spero and Shields became very close, bonding over a shared love of modern cuisine and the iconic Spanish restaurant Mugaritz. Spero admired Shields’ integrity, how he led by example, and his passion inside and outside the kitchen.
Spero returned to the District and opened his first restaurant, Suno, which closed only a few months later. Despite the restaurant’s short tenure, his talent attracted the attention of a recruiter from Jose Andres’ company, Think Food Group. After completing a three-week stage, Spero was hired as executive sous chef at Andres’ modern fine-dining mecca, Minibar.
In his two years at Minibar, Spero grew tremendously as a chef. He grew comfortable working in an open kitchen, learned how to make a dream a reality, and led the restaurant to receive a perfect four-star review from Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema. In 2015, Spero’s wanderlust took him to the tiny town of Errenteria, Spain, where he completed a season-long stage at Mugaritz, Andoni Luis Aduriz’s temple of modernist haute cuisine. Spero’s main goal during this time was to better understand how Andoni thought about food and the overall dining experience. He also came to appreciate the restaurant tradition of family meal – a shared meal before service – as an important ritual to bring the staff together.
Spero returned to the District later that year and began planning a restaurant of his own, drawing on his time in kitchens around the world for inspiration. He knew he wanted the concept to provide an intimate dining experience where guests interact directly with chefs, an informal dining room, and an approachable price point. Spero sees himself as a dreamer, so the name Reverie – meaning a state of dreamy thought – was a natural fit.
Spero signed the lease for the space that would become Reverie in November 2016. During the long process of converting the former office space into a restaurant, he agreed to consult on the food menu at Derek Brown’s award-winning bar The Columbia Room. What started as a short-term project turned into a partnership among friends, with Brown’s Drink Company as a partner in Reverie and Spero continuing his role as head chef at The Columbia Room.
Spero lives in the DuPont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. with his wife Alexis and dog Nacho. They are expecting their first child this fall.