Don’t try to put Fernando Guedes, Jr. into a box. Maybe he’ll stay there for a moment (and while he’s there, he’ll most likely re-brand the box as something fresh and new). Soon, though, he’ll poke his head out and start creating new things outside the box while somehow keeping part of himself still connected to the improved original box. Oh, and everything he creates will definitely be fabulous, especially if his partners, Hamza Hadani and Mekki Karrakchou are in on it. And they are always in on it.
Fernando, Hamza and Mekki are a force in the DMV. A business-owning, restaurant-branding, crowd-pleasing force that, on one hand began with a simple meal at a long-established DC restaurant but, on the other hand, was generations in the making.
Mekki’s father owned several restaurants in DC and New York. Mekki owned an Italian-hybrid restaurant in Georgetown called Paper Moon. Hamza grew up in the restaurant and entertainment business and owns Susheria in Georgetown. Fernando’s path was a little different.
With Brazilian parents, Fernando was born and raised in Montgomery County and early-on developed a passion and talent for soccer. “I’ve played since I could walk,” he says. Through Fernando’s youth, he played soccer for teams in Bethesda and Potomac and eventually played two years semi-pro in Brazil. Along the way, Fernando realized he had an equal passion and talent for business. After playing soccer in Brazil, he became a coach and then opened the Brazilian Soccer Training Academy in Bethesda, where he remains Director of Training. The Academy focuses on helping at-risk youth from Brazil and the greater DMV. And, as a principal of Ace Construction DMV, Fernando is the third generation to help run his family’s construction business.
Mekki met Hamza “randomly at a social event,” Fernando explains, and adds, “I was a customer at Paper Moon and Mekki befriended me. We all became friends, and we had the opportunity to re-brand Paper Moon, so we did it,” Fernando says lightly, as if it’s no big deal to snuff out a beloved DC institution like Paper Moon and remake it into Flavio, which became an even bigger hit when it opened in 2016, with Fernando, Hamza and Mekki as co-owners.
“Flavio has become a staple in Georgetown, with a huge fan base,” Fernando says, as he describes what he calls a very traditional Italian restaurant with a modern feel and lively atmosphere. But the three friends and business partners were just getting started.
Fernando explains that many of Flavio clients come from the Cathedral Heights side of town so, when a landlord there reached out about opening another restaurant, Fernando, Mekki and Hamza were interested. “The space is amazing,” Fernando says of the Wisconsin Avenue area where Flavio's 2.0 will open in June. “That strip, in the last five years, totally turned over and it was missing an Italian restaurant. So, when the landlord reached out to us, we agreed.”
Flavio’s 2.0 will be as big as the original Flavio – about 10,000 square feet – but with a much bigger outdoor eating area. “It will have the same style of food, but with a speakeasy,” says Fernando. “The speakeasy will be called the Vault,” he says as he explains that the space is adjacent to a bank and there will be an actual, huge, bank-vault door through which guests can enter.
But wait, there’s more. In October of this year, the trio will also open a Brazilian steakhouse as part of Phase 2 construction at the Wharf, the District’s trendy southwest waterfront.
Fernando, who also owns an architectural studio and is launching a business consulting company, explains how he, Mekki and Hamza maximize their contributions to each business they create. “We are a team,” he says simply. “I take the lead on the construction side, and I am also hands-on on the restaurant side. Hamza and Mekki are the restaurant connoisseurs.”
Fernando and Hamza are in their early 30s, while Mekki is just over 40. “With all the brands we are putting out there,” Fernando says, “We want people to know: Hey these are the three guys that have all those restaurants and businesses in DC.” He mentions a “huge marketing plan” and a how everything to this point is part of “a bigger master plan.” And just like that, another box gets ripped to shreds by none other than these three guys.