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Tombs manager lays his career to rest
Last weekend, William Watts had a lot to handle. Homecoming Weekend brought a flood of customers to the Tombs, and a private party had reserved F. Scott’s for the evening. At the same time, these were just the last few days of his 37-year career with the Clyde’s Restaurant Group. Just one last push.
Then, his bakery set on fire.
Watts, who has worked as the general manager of the Tombs, 1789, and F. Scott’s since 1985, paced back and forth behind caution tape, wringing his hands while waiting for the D.C. Fire Department to allow him to enter the building. The bakery, which is attached to F. Scott’s, suffered exterior fire damage from the blaze, believed to be ignited by a smoldering cigarette.
“We’ll probably have to cancel that party,” the 65-year old said, looking at the fire and water damage. “But, I won’t know until I get the OK to go inside.”
Soon after the fire trucks left the scene, he surveyed the interior of the building—which was largely undamaged—and sent longtime employee Molly Quigley to his house in Alexandria to pick up his tools. Watts keeps tools in the back of his Jeep, but drove another car to work that morning, a restored Mercedes Benz convertible.
“William treats these buildings like he owns them,” Quigley said. “If something is broken, he’ll fix it.”
Spend a few minutes with Watts and it becomes clear that he has his hands in almost everything that goes on around the restaurants. One minute, he’s behind the bar tidying up mugs; the next, he’s outside tending to the herb garden he planted in the parking lot behind 1789. Last summer, Watts recruited one of the restaurant’s valets to help him repair the roof. And every December, he spends at least 80 hours decorating 1789 for the Christmas season.
“He’s such a Renaissance man. It’s really amazing,” Quigley said.
But if you ask him, Watts will just say that it’s all in a day’s work. Even for a man who plans to retire in five days.
“If I’m not on vacation, I’m working,” he said. “The job’s become a part of my life, it’ll be really difficult to walk away from.”
An American University graduate who served in Germany during the Vietnam War, Watts entered the restaurant business after taking a job at Clyde’s of Georgetown in 1973. After college, Clyde’s owner John Laytham asked if he would manage the restaurant; a decade later, Watts found himself managing the trio of restaurants that line 36th Street.
“Thirty-five years down here, I’ve probably seen thousands and thousands of employees. And I’d like to think that I made an impact on their lives,” he said.
Some employees, such as bartender Jonathan Quigley, called Watts “the best boss I’ve ever worked for.” At a retirement brunch on Sunday afternoon, where almost three dozen people crowded into the Tombs’ back, the “Sweeps” room, a former employee read a poem, entitled, “An Ode to William Watts.” And although—or perhaps because—he has no children, Watts regularly calls the restaurants’ staff his “family.”
“He taught me how to be a man,” Brook Tarbell, a former employee, said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without William Watts.”
Standing outside of the 1789 bakery with a saw in his hand, Watts was a strange brew of handyman, manager, and connoisseur. He gathered a pile of wood that the fire department had hacked off of the building, which needed to be chopped up and disposed. As drops of sweat rolled down his face, eyes fixed on the soon-to-be-cut pieces of wood in front of him, he suddenly looked up to explain himself.
“This is what a general manager does.”