Jonathan Nelms recently left the partnership ranks at Baker McKenzie to take his chances as a restaurateur, opening up Supra, the first establishment in the nation’s capital to offer Georgian food, or a cuisine based on what’s traditionally served not in the southern U.S. state, but the former Soviet satellite of Georgia.
“I’ve left it for now,” Nelms said this week about his time in Big Law and at Baker McKenzie, where he had worked since 2005.
A little more than a year ago, Nelms, then working in the global legal giant’s office in Washington, D.C., where he had relocated after nearly three years toiling in its Moscow office, chose his words carefully in describing the tenuous state of relations between the U.S. and Russia amid the start of special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation.
“I don’t want to call it a new Cold War,” Nelms told The American Lawyer at the time. He acknowledged that the relationship between both countries had chilled enough to have consequences for U.S.-based firms with Russian outposts.
In the ensuing months, as Mueller’s team has continued to pursue allegations and filed multiple indictments against U.S. and Russian citizens, Nelms conceded that his work at Baker McKenzie had dwindled and become less robust and fulfilling.
“My practice had changed from FCPA investigations to handling FCPA due diligence for M&A transactions. I found myself with less and less to do,” he said. “I needed to spend more time on business development and [that] continued to be challenging.”
One positive, however, was that Nelms saw his interest in investing in a restaurant offering Georgian cuisine move from pipe dream status to reality. He and his wife, Laura, had come to adore the country’s food during their residency in Moscow. Nelms found other potential investors, including through Kickstarter, and a restaurant consultant whom he trusted to find a location and kitchen staff.
The National Law Journal noted last summer that Nelms was poised to open Supra in Shaw, a small neighborhood in the northwest corner of Washington, D.C. Since Supra opened its doors late last year, Nelms said that he’s been “really happy with it.” The restaurant’s name means tablecloth in Georgian, as well as a way to denote an earlier cited reference in legal documents.
Nelms’ new eatery serves Georgian wines and all sorts of dishes, including khachapuri, an increasingly popular cheese-filled bread. Supra has garnered plenty of attention in local restaurant reviews, as well as social media, including among the Georgian cognoscenti, Nelms said.
“We’ve had a great start,” added Nelms, noting that internationally minded eaters from the World Bank, the U.S. Department of State and numerous embassies throughout Washington, D.C., have all become customers. “We have ambassadors come here. They joke it’s the second Georgian embassy.”
Nelms’ new establishment also draws in the young crowds of Washingtonians subsidizing the city’s exploding restaurant scene, he said, although he doesn’t miss the business of law.
“I don’t miss metering my time in six-minute segments,” Nelms said.
He has, however, put his legal knowledge to use for Supra, helping figure out liquor license issues, tax issues and even in determining which stakeholders get the say-so in building out patio space for the business.
Nelms is also already contemplating ways to grow his sole establishment into a restaurant empire, perhaps by opening another eatery featuring the cuisine of another ex-Soviet satellite, Uzbekistan.