John Laytham, the onetime dishwasher who rose to become CEO of Washington, D.C.’s Clyde’s Restaurant Group on the strength of his ideas and entrepreneurial spirt, died last week at age 74.
His death was attributed to the effects of a heart condition.
Laytham had been involved with the multi-concept group since 1963, when he landed a part-time back-of-house job at the company’s first restaurant, the original Clyde’s, now a landmark in the District’s Georgetown area. At the time, Laytham was studying at Georgetown University with plans to become a foreign-service officer.
Laytham had ideas about how to grow the business, and his boss, proprietor Stuart Davidson, was eager to incorporate them. Among those notions was staying open on Sunday, serving brunch and bucking the notion prevalent in fine dining at the time to exclusively hire male servers.
Co-workers say that entrepreneurial spirit would be a hallmark of Laytham’s throughout his 55-year tenure with the company.
“John was a giant of a man and a lion in the industry. His fingerprints will forever be visible throughout the restaurant scene, and on the countless lives he’s impacted,” Tom Meyer, Clyde's president, said in a statement. “I count myself among the many lucky enough to call him a boss, a friend, mentor, and father-figure.”
Davidson would make Laytham a partner in the company within five years. The company’s operations would grow to 13 establishments, including Old Ebbitt Grill, one of Washington’s most storied and successful restaurants. The institution is ranked fifth on Restaurant Business’ 2018 list of the nation’s top-grossing independent restaurants, with annual sales approaching $34 million. Laytham was reportedly the prime driver in Clyde’s acquisition of the landmark in 1970.
Laytham would meet his wife at the group, where she worked as a hostess, and the operation became a family affair. Ginger Laytham is now senior executive officer, and Davidson’s widow, Sally, is chairman. Stuart Davidson died in 2001.
The company has yet to announce the appointment of a new CEO.