by Jonathan O'Connell
Shortly after Andy Shallal opened Busboys and Poets on 14th Street NW in 2005, he said he began receiving a stream of e-mails and phone calls from residents of the Takoma neighborhood of D.C. and its Maryland neighbor, Takoma Park, a neighborhood long known for its counter-culturism.
Would Shallal, an Iraqi-American whose opposition to the invasion of Iraq helped put Busboys on the map, consider opening a location there?
The e-mails never stopped, and on Tuesday, Shallal decided that he would answer them by signing a lease to open a 6,500-square-foot Busboys in a new retail-and-apartment project
The project, by Federal Capital Partners and Level 2 Development, will have 150 apartments upstairs and is currently under construction.
“I think Takoma is a great, progressive community and a place where a lot of our customers already live,” Shallal said. He said he likes to open in neighborhoods that lack community gathering places, which he considers the core purpose of the bar-coffeehouse-bookstore-performance space. “It fits a lot of the things that we serve,” he said of the neighborhood.
The Takoma location, expected to open in the spring of 2014, will be the fifth Busboys, and Shallal said he is negotiating a lease to open a sixth in the Brookland neighborhood in Northeast D.C. He also owns the Eatonville restaurant on 14th Street NW. In all, he said he has about 500 employees now, a number that could reach 675 with the two openings.
He said that although he has concerns about growing the company too large, he has no intention of slowing down. He said he tries to make each location unique to the neigborhood where it operates. Busboys events, for example, are not managed centrally, but by staff at each location. Shallal said Busboys has become successful in part because it has something to offer at all times of day in neighborhoods that are evolving away from being strictly nine-to-five locales.
“We live in a city that’s become more cosmopolitan. People work different shifts and different times of day. Lots of people work from home and want to have a place to be around other people. It’s not just a government city,” he said.
Where will Shallal go next? He said he would like to be in Anacostia, and considered taking over the former Uniontown Bar and Grill, but the space was too small. He said despite putting out feelers to a number of property owners in Ward 8, the city’s most economically depressed ward, he had received almost no responses.
“Marion Barry should call me, “ he said.