Building The Dream - HBW Excels At The Construction Of Passion Projects

Building a unique restaurant concept side-by-side with the owner-operators takes a different approach and holds more meaning.

Zooz Cocktails Project

By any measure, ZOOZ is a restaurateur’s dream. The waterside cocktail garden was conceived as an upscale destination for before or after dinner, with hanging greenery and florals setting the scene while bartenders mix and pour drinks table-side. When it opens in March, ZOOZ will be the second D.C. project for brothers Joseph, Kamal, and Anthony Azzouz, but the first with HBW helping to bring their dream to life.

Our commercial construction resume has included a growing number of independent, owner-operator projects in the past few years, including Cafe Unido, Apex Vets, and the New Story School in Virginia Beach. These projects require the same effort and attention to detail as other interior build-outs and renovations, but the owner’s level of investment and involvement tends to make HBW team members feel more passionate about them. 

Sr. Project Manager Alexandra Dramby explains, “When you have the actual owner on site almost every day, you see their excitement over every little detail, and those feelings transfer to us. I think it makes us even more motivated to make them happy and get this space open for them on time. This is their baby.”

Phil Harvey, Superintendent, adds, “Our construction teams don’t always get the opportunity to talk with project owners and hear their stories and visions for their new space. When we do, every installation integral to the design brings us a step closer to giving them their dream.”

The ZOOZ vision
The ZOOZ owners already have one restaurant, Urban Roast, that was recently recognized as the best brunch in DC. They are now setting their sights on achieving similar recognition for ZOOZ, and they’ve made it clear to our team that they want to be known as the best for it, too. That level of emotional investment translates to caring deeply about everything, from workmanship to materials. And that makes HBW an ideal partner because we use a highly personalized and collaborative approach to establish lasting relationships with our clients.

When the owners first walked the space, located on the first level of a condominium building, they made significant changes to the layout for space optimization. With the decision-makers standing right there, we could talk through those changes quickly, shifting the dimensions of the back-of-house areas, the bar, and the dining space without impacting the grand opening date of March 8th.
Unique Restaurant Design by HBW Construction

Building for dreamers
HBW’s approach when working directly with a restaurant’s independent owner is slightly different from working with a construction manager from a big restaurant group. From a project management approach, there needs to be more communication about the schedule and the different phases of the construction process. Day-to-day communication remains key as the owners walk the space, reviewing the progress that’s been made and watching the work. Someone who does construction full-time already knows how the work will flow and what to expect, but for those going through the process for the first or second time ever, everything is new.

As HBW approaches the end of the ZOOZ build, great communication means the team spends time with the owners each day to review the interior design materials that have arrived and make any final adjustments. A significant part of that is explaining the impact of making changes on the fly, from costs to labor to scheduling.

“A few weeks ago, the owners added a new ceiling finish. Instead of paint, it’s going to be a specialty wall covering. We explained the lead time and the requirement for a 10-day install period once it arrived,” says Phil. 

Alex adds, “That’s when our experience really comes into play. We’re very aware that in restaurant construction, the opening date is critical. Any delays have big financial consequences. But we also understand that restaurants come with a lot of changes. We have to move quickly with sketches and dimensions, come up with suggestions for products that can achieve their vision, and look at lead times and schedule impacts. Often, that means we have to get creative.”

To manage the new ceiling work, HBW devised a plan using swing shifts. As the ceiling work wraps up in the afternoon, the ceramic tile team starts their install. The two efforts keep crews out of each other’s way and save time on the project.

Leveraging on-the-job experience
Building unique projects under an owners’ watchful eye isn’t for every construction contractor. HBW experience in the restaurant and retail sector is the key to so many successful outcomes. 

When the pandemic put a damper on office construction, our team leveraged knowledge and skill in corporate interiors to grow restaurant and retail into one of its largest market sectors. The knowledge of individual team members has been a factor in that growth, too. 

Alex and Phil both joined HBW with restaurant experience in hand. They have teamed up for a handful of projects after first working on a Lidl grocery store together. They credit their working relationship and flow of communication in handling the fast pace and many changes involved in restaurant construction. Other staff members’ niche experience contributes to HBW’s capabilities, including knowledge of high-end finishes and utilities needed for restaurant equipment and diner comfort.

Sharing the dream
Commercial construction allows HBW to have a hand in every business we build space for. At the end of the day, the quality of our work is something we are proud of, and it feels extra special when we can see that the owners are proud of it, too.

ZOOZ is the kind of place we would want to visit whether we built it or not – but since we are involved, we’re motivated to give our best effort. It’s going to be incredible to go there and see the Azzouz brothers living out their dream.