Restaurateur Andy Shallal will not be bringing his Busboys & Poets franchise to Anacostia quite yet. Last night, Stan Voudrie, the landlord of the shuttered Uniontown Bar & Grill, told the Historic Anacostia Block Association he is considering 5 bids. Busboys “is not one of them.”
Voudrie said he has shown the space to a number of experienced and locally-known restaurant owners. The proprietor of Uniontown Bar & Grill was evicted when her assets were frozen following a plea on drug charges, but the kitchen, fridge, and bar areas remain equipped. With space available to expand upstairs, Voudrie said a new restaurant could be open within a matter of weeks.
When asked who the 5 bids came from, Voudrie was rather reticent. “I can’t share because they don’t want it to get out that they were under consideration and then ultimately didn’t get it.” One thing is certain. The name Uniontown Bar and Grill will change, and the new name will not be Busboys & Poets.
Despite a direct marketing effort led by a close knit group of Anacostia residents to lure Shallal to the neighborhood, for now, everyone will have to wait. Shallal, touted by radio host Kymone Freeman as the “man from Mesopotamia,” recently told Anacostia’s own We Act Radio (1480 AM), “My dream is to open Busboys in Anacostia. And I know that might piss off somebody but you know what they can get pissed off. I don’t care.”
Shallal said (around 59:00), “It was beautiful because I got a poster that was sent by residents of Anacostia. It said Anacostia on top and there were all these residents and a dog and kids and all this and it says, ‘We want Busboys and Poets here.’”
Vacant properties in Historic Anacostia abound. According to multiple sources within the neighborhood, the most likely space for Busboys & Poets is the former furniture showroom at 2004-2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. Although social service agencies have toured the property, there have been no signs of activity.
Building the space out to accommodate a restaurant could cost “a million or more in tenant improvements,” according to one neighborhood source familiar with the ongoing effort to secure a tenant. With a basement level and 2 upper floors, the privately owned building is more than 10,000 total square feet. This provides ample capacity for a performance space, which would complement the Anacostia Playhouse tentatively scheduled to open in March 2013, and a possible culinary arts training program which neighborhood residents have expressed a demand for.
Anacostians, young and old, white and black, male and female, gay and straight, are near uniform in their desire for a catalytic anchor with Busboys and Poets’ brand recognition on the faded commercial strip.
Anacostians’ self-agency and determination to market their community as open and ready for business is commendable, and other communities could replicate it. But residents should heed an old colloquium that harkens back to Anacostia’s bucolic past: “Don’t put your eggs in one basket.” Waiting for Busboys & Poets to validate Anacostia as an emerging neighborhood is unnecessary. It already is.