Rock Star Service: Valentine King Wins 2019 RAMMY for Employee of the Year

Valentine King with his Rammy. (Photo by James Cullum)

The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington deemed him the best of the best.

By James Cullum

ALEXANDRIA,VA-Want to talk? Valentine King will lend a sympathetic ear. Want to be left alone? King won’t bug you. He’s perfected the art of making people feel at home away from home, and after a career that spans nearly 35 years, has finally been officially recognized for his talents behind the bar. On June 30, King received the RAMMY [Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington] award for employee of the year. While most folks may not quite realize the magnitude of this win, it’s huge! There are thousands of employees throughout the region who lost out to King, the daytime bartender at Hummingbird Restaurant and Kitchen.

“It was totally unexpected. I was in shock. The Metro DC area has hundreds of restaurants and they all submit nominations, and then whittled that down to five nominees,” King told The Zebra after the RAMMY win. “It’s more than just waking up, putting on a uniform and showing up for the job. You do what you love and you want to be inspired by a chef, an owner. It’s not a job if you love what you’re doing.”

Military Service

The 62-year-old King is a Prince George’s County native, and enlisted in the Air Force in 1977. After seven years in the service, he left work as a tactical air control specialist, got an accounting degree from the University of Maryland, and then a real job as an accountant at a firm in D.C. Two years later, while bartending and waiting tables part-time, King faced an existential crisis. He loved the money he made as an accountant, but hated the sterile environment.

“The money was incredible, but there was no interaction with people unless you went to get coffee in the break room,” King said. “It was just awful. I had a conversation with my dad, who said that it’s not about money, it’s about what you have a passion for. I’d always enjoyed working in the fast-paced nature of the food service industry. You’re constantly meeting new people, the climate changes constantly, there’s always something new to learn and read about. It isn’t Groundhog Day.”

Valentine King at Hummingbird Bar and Kitchen. (Photo by James Cullum)

King’s career has included stints as a waiter, bartender, trainer, and manager at Clyde’s, 1789, Ecco Cafe, The Majestic, and perhaps most notably as the daytime bartender at Restaurant Eve for 12 years. He transitioned to Hummingbird, which is Eat Good Food Group’s newest restaurant since their closing of Restaurant Eve last year. He’s also a Crossfit enthusiast, has run the Marine Corps Marathon 15 times and the Boston Marathon twice.

The Golden Rule

“Put yourself in the shoes of your customer,” King said. “You want it to be a rewarding experience for them. What would you expect? If you’re reading your table you’ll know soon enough if they want to be entertained by you, or if they want to enjoy one another’s company.”

King has been married for 18 years to Janice King, a U.S. Army colonel, who he met at Ecco Cafe. His plan is to one day retire to Newport, Rhode Island, where the couple lived while she attended the Naval War College. Once in Rhode Island, they want to open a bed and breakfast.

“I’m a pretty relaxed person. I take everything in perspective,” King said. “I see my wife and myself operating a small boutique style hotel, and to offer the finest available to that region.”