Greater Greater Washington

Hungry for neighborhood eateries, Anacostia could get a Busboys & Poets

Neighborhood restaurants can be the foundation of a community. In Anacostia, plans to bring popular local chain Busboys & Poets to the area are moving forward, while residents remember one sub shop that was the "spot to come to" before closing a generation ago.


Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.

In recent years, restauranteur and mayoral candidate Andy Shallal has hinted he intends to open a Busboys & Poets in Anacostia. In response, residents launched a marketing campaign to woo the restaurant.

At last night's Washington City Paper debate, Shallal publicly confirmed he is in negotiations for 2 possible locations in Anacostia: the former American Furniture store at 2004 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, and the city-owned Big K lot in the 2200 block of MLK. Community sources say Shallal is exploring "franchising" the Busboys & Poets brand to a black-owned management group that would run the restaurant in the former furniture store.

A block away, long-time resident Melvin Holloway stands on the corner of the lot at the junction of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Pleasant Street, and Maple View Place SE and points to a sign.


Miles Long in 1984. Photo from the Anacostia Community Museum Archives.

"See: March 27, 1961," he says, singling out a date on the side of the neon sign's illuminating shell. "That's about when the Miles Long opened. It closed, probably, in the late '70s. But their memory is still strong."

The reverence that still exists in the hearts and stomachs of Anacostians for the Miles Long, decades after its closing, is a testament to the yearning both long-time and newer arrivals have for landmark neighborhood eateries. When discussing Anacostia in recent years with my Uncle Gary, who worked for Goodyear on Railroad Avenue in the 1970s, he always mentions the Miles Long.


Melvin Holloway stands in front of the former Miles Long. Photo by author.

According to Holloway, Miles Long "was the spot to come to at night, the spot to come to when it opened up early in the morning, and anytime in between. You could smell the fried onions they'd put on the steak sandwiches blocks away."

The Miles Long building had a brief second life in 2012 when a couple from Bethesda opened Mama's Kitchen, a pizzeria that the Washington Post highlighted as one of the first sit-down restaurants to open in the area in years. Since then, Mama's Kitchen moved to 2028 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and became Mama's BBQ, Blues & Pizza.

A neighborhood dining scene is slowly returning. In recent years, Uniontown Bar & Grill opened at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and W Street. On Good Hope Road, Nurish Food & Drink recently opened in the Anacostia Arts Center, housed in the old Woolworth building and down the street from local mainstay Tony's Place.

Changes are coming for hungry Anacostians. Time will tell what neighborhood eatery future generations will get to remember.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia

Comments

Add a comment »

Shallal should stick with creating and managing great restaurants and leave running the city to those with their feet on the ground and heads wrapped around data.

by falafel addict on Mar 17, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

There seems to always be this big push to go after Busboys and Poets. I don't see what is so special about them. Their food and drink selection is pretty forgettable and I don't think they really make it up with a shelf of books. Obviously would be great to have something in an underserved area but I have seen people go nuts for this particular establishment. Can't remember the last area it was slated to open and the same thing happened.

by Al on Mar 17, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

The old American Furniture building looks to be a fabulous space. It's a simple art deco building, and is under renovation apparently, as I noticed when I was in Anacostia for a WeAct Radio show awhile back. It'd be an awesome restaurant space.

regardless of "Busboys & Poets," as far as an establishment opening up there is concerned, for both the space and the place (the commercial district) it would be way better for it to be "a chain with character" because they would have the money and the experience to be successful, which really matters in revitalizing areas with poor track records for business success (usually the result of under-sophisticated actors).

So Shallal mentioning the restaurant as a possible franchise I would argue is a bad idea. A location there needs the financial backing and commitment of the main company. It would have to be an incredibly well-placed non-connected management group to work. Although he could do a "Joe Englert" and lend his connections for financing and vendors to people in his circle who create the separate place, which he owns a piece of still.

Other companies do this too, but Englert is very successful at leveraging his ecosystem for other players, while mostly other companies are better at opening new concepts but keeping the ownership, e.g., Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Matchbox, Jeff Black--although the new restaurant in Takoma is partly owned by the chef, who worked/s for him. Bedrock--Buffalo Billiards tried this once at least, with a location in far out Gaithersburg, but it failed after awhile. cf. Michael Landrum and http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2012/12/in-lower-income-neighborhoods-are.html

by Richard Layman on Mar 17, 2014 2:41 pm • linkreport

Good piece, and a healthy dose of optimism.

It is quite bizarre that Shallal would franchise it. Gosh he really seems leery of the neighborhood. How bizarre!

+1 to Nurish. Excellent food. And Uniontown is more simple food but we'll done and cheap HH deals. Great staff too.

Big Chair seems like it's in a weird spot right now though in regards to management etc.

by h st ll on Mar 17, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

Big Chair and the previous debacle with Uniontown are what I was referring to as places with management, financing and other issues.

The businesses were wacked, but their failures end up reflecting negatively on the commercial district... "you can't make a business work on Martin Luther King Avenue/Anacostia" and that ends up being very damaging.

Englert's success on H St. made it safe for others, others failed before (Phish Tea) and still do (TruOrleans) but for the most part it's now understood that with the right kind of management, financing, and concept you can succeed.

Anacostia isn't there yet.

by Richard Layman on Mar 17, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

Why would Shallal franchise it to a black-owned management group? Who are the "community sources?" He should do the Busboys and Poets management, not another group.

by Huh on Mar 17, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

He'll franchise it to put the risk burden on them. If goes belly up he can claim he tried with no skin in the game. Win-win for him.

by John on Mar 17, 2014 5:07 pm • linkreport

I suppose the mayoral primary being held on April fools day is appropriate... Unfortunately, the joke will be on Anacostia come the 2nd as this reeks of cheap campaign propaganda. Love Shallal and Busboys but the timing on this seems "odd" to say the least...

Signed,

Hopeful

by Jehiel on Mar 17, 2014 11:15 pm • linkreport

However it happens, I hope Busboys & Poets comes to Anacostia ASAP! I've been to Nurish at least four times this month and it's ALWAYS slammed. The community has more than shown it's willingness and ability to heartily support Anacostia restaurants.

Next up, Congress Heights.

by Jamie on Mar 18, 2014 10:29 am • linkreport

Why does this feel like a heavy handed election tactic to me?

by BTA on Mar 18, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

Because it is one.

by John on Mar 18, 2014 5:15 pm • linkreport

Election tactic--totally agree. I live EOTR and would really like to see a non-chain eatery. Something new and fresh, similar to Nurish cafe. He seems very skiddish abt investing here anyway, either be all in or stay out please. In fact, dangle that carrot somewhere else--rotten.

by Kim on Mar 18, 2014 9:54 pm • linkreport

I am a huge fan of Busboys and Poets and would love to see it in SE. I will say that I need for the quality of the atmosphere, food and customer service to remain the same. I live 5 min from where the possible future location maybe. I would be highly upset if the service or food reflected that of the old Anacostia.
Looking for change in my area.

by BBP Fan on Oct 20, 2014 5:50 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or