Busboys and Poets opens in Anacostia amid uncertainty of future development projects

Founder Andy Shallal's sketch of Busboys and Poets Anacostia, which opened this month at 2004 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. Photo courtesy of Busboys and Poets Anacostia.

Following years of anticipation, the wait is finally over. After holding a series of local hiring fairs, Busboys and Poets opened its doors in the first week of March on the ground floor of 2004 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, in a redeveloped bowling alley. Upstairs houses the new headquarters of the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC), a nonprofit, community-based organization serving Ward 8 since 1996.

“We are thrilled to be in a community that has embraced us with so much support and love,” said Andy Shallal, who owns Busboys locations in four District neighborhoods with outposts in suburban Maryland and Virginia.

Busboys and Poets, known as a gathering place for artists, social entrepreneurs and members of the creative class, will serve as a long-sought complementary destination for the nearby Anacostia Arts Center on lower Good Hope Road, Anacostia Playhouse on Shannon Place and the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site on W Street.

Shallal says, “We look forward to preserving the history and legacy that Anacostia stands for.”

Completion Amid Stalled Developments
Late last year, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White pulled his support of $60 million in TIF bonds planned to assist financing more than a half-million square feet of development of Reunion Square on the surface parking lot facing Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, running from Chicago Street down to W Street SE.

With the collapse of Reunion Square, the arrival of Busboys and Poets comes amid uncertainty of future revitalization projects in the immediate neighborhood, including more than 50,000 square feet at Good Hope and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Selected by the city in December 2016 to develop the MLK Gateway, the Menkiti Group has yet to break ground on a project restoring 22,000 square feet of historic ground-floor retail bays on the 1200 block of Good Hope Road, as well as 28,500 square feet of planned construction of new vertical office space and creative workspace.

While Reunion Square and MLK Gateway have stalled, the buildout and construction of Busboys and Poets Anacostia was supported with more than $14 million in District gap funding, including a $3 million grant from the office of Mayor Muriel Bowser in 2015, according to information provided by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED).

Additionally, the project received $8 million in revenue bonds from DMPED and over $2 million from the DC Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program administered by the Department of Energy & Environment and by Urban Ingenuity. According to a release from DMPED, “This innovative project is the first in the nation to use PACE funding, along with tax-exempt funds, to drive down energy bills and lower the cost of building improvements for non-profit organizations.”

Brian Kenner, director of DMPED, told East of the River the redevelopment has been successful and distinctive due to the collaboration between Busboys and Poets and the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative.

“What is great about this project is that the collaborative actually owns the building where Busboys is going to be operating out of,” says Kenner. “This provides an interesting and new opportunity for what has historically been a retail-focused corridor, but, similar to other areas in the city, had experienced ups and downs over the last 30 years.”

Kenner added, “It is great the community is reclaiming this stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue with new and improved amenities and employment opportunities. We are excited to see the activity and energy in Anacostia.”

According to Kenner, Busboys and Poets Anacostia will not receive additional tax incentives or subsidies from DMPED.

Shallal Tours Busboys and Poets Anacostia
In recent weeks, Shallal took to Facebook to generate interest and share details of the pending opening of Busboys and Poets Anacostia. Over the background sounds of saws and hammers, Shallal spoke with literary activist and author Ethelbert Miller.

“This has been an ongoing project,” Shallal told Miller. “We signed the lease on this place in 2014 and it is now 2019, ladies and gentlemen.”

Asked what would make the Anacostia location distinctive, Shallal responded, “It’ll be a gathering place with lots of programming that is specifically related to Southeast for the folks that are here.”

Shallal continued, “I think a lot of people in Southeast are used to going to the Rise Center or a public library or community centers, but a public space like a restaurant is a different experience. It is a great way for people to connect from different walks of life and different backgrounds that live here in Southeast.”

According to Shallal, the restaurant’s dining room will seat around 100, supported by a coffee-and-drinks bar. An events room in the rear will accommodate poetry and book readings, musical performances and community conversations on public and cultural issues. The room will reportedly be equipped for radio and television broadcasts.

As of press time, operating hours were not confirmed nor a phone number, but remarks by Shallal in community meetings indicate the restaurant will tentatively open to serve breakfast and remain open until 10 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on weekends.

For more information visit www.facebook.com/BusboysAndPoetsAnacostia/ or https://www.busboysandpoets.com/locations/.