My Washington: Owner of Busboys and Poets’ Andy Shallal

by Catherine Trifiletti

Andy Shallal

As a member of Mayor Bowser’s task force to reopen the city, can you share a few of the key elements you are discussing?

The key charge for the task force subcommittee is determining “the how” of reopening for the restaurant industry in particular. I am honored to work with so many dedicated individuals including José Andrés and Kathy Hollinger of RAMW. We of course have to defer to health professionals as to “the when.”We are all anxious to reopen and want to make sure it is done safely and with clear guidelines and protocols that will not be over cumbersome yet will provide the confidence for customers to return.

What is your number one biggest challenge as a restaurant owner?

Safety. Restaurants are high touch spaces that shun social distancing. We have to rethink how to deal with this so called “new normal” and how to operate under such conditions. We have to gain the trust of patrons who, in the past few weeks, have been instructed to keep away from one another. The other challenge, of course, is an economic one. How to stay afloat during these times. Making sure that restaurants are prepared for a period of uncertainty and reduced revenue. We also have to work with landlords and developers to make sure that they understand that going forward, we will all need to make concessions in order for us to succeed.

With the help of artists, you have painted positive messages on storefronts across the city, what spurred you to action?

I am a hopeful person. I try to look for a silver lining in almost every seemingly negative situation.

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So, when someone threw a rock through our storefront window in Anacostia, it occurred to me that we have to flip the energy. So rather than getting mad and putting up bars, we started an uplifting and hopeful initiative called #paintthestorefronts. This initiative to paint boarded up or closed storefronts throughout the city has taken off like wildfire and has been utilized in many communities in the DMV and around the country. The idea is simple, hire unemployed artists to paint storefronts that have been shuttered by the lockdown. Artists know how to create something out of nothing and bring about messages of hope. To date we have over 80 storefronts done and many more in the pipeline.

Why are these public art installations important?

Public art is always important. It allows us to connect with one another in a deeper way. To discover our common humanity and remind ourselves of what binds us together. It also allows for a deliberate interruption to our day. A pause to think and
reflect.

Tell us about your partnership with SavalFoods?

Saval Foods is one of our longtime purveyors for food supplies. They were able to mobilize and put together hundreds of non-perishable food items to give away to our associates and locals in need. Busboys and Poets was able to provide the infrastructure and network for the distribution of these items.

You have been candid about your personal experience with the pandemic on Twitter. Amid all the darkness, where have you found inspiration?

I find inspiration in every day successes. I try to stay focused and in the moment. As I mentioned before I don’t see the juxtaposition of darkness versus lightness.

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I see detours and opportunities that are part of life’s journey.

What can our readers do to help the city get back to business?

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Be patient. Continue to support local independent businesses. Thank your frontline workers and your local shop keeper.

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Advocate for unemployment pay for essential workers in addition to their regular wages. Once we are reopened, we need that support to continue.

My Top Spots

What is the first restaurant you plan to visit when the city reopens?

Probably Perry’s at the corner of 18th and Columbia Road NW

What are you reading?

I just finished reading “Bad Feminist” and “Difficult Women” by Roxane Gay

Favorite outdoor spot?

Meridian Hill Park (aka“Malcolm X Park”) as well as Rock Creek Park. I have been spending most of my outdoor time at either one of those.

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Where is the first place you will go when the shutdown ends?

Mint, my gym in Adams Morgan.

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