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Over the summer Khepra Anu was in danger of losing his raw food and juice business on H Street NE. Building owner John C. Formant sought to evict Hempburger Cafe & Juice Bar from 408 H St. NE over three months of missed rent, according to a complaint filed in D.C. Superior Court on May 22. But Anu was determined to find a way to continue serving his customers, many of whom rallied behind him by raising money in advance of his July court date.
In court, both parties reached a settlement agreement through mediation. Anu would need to make all his rent payments in full and on time going forward. “I’m breathing easy, but this was a trip,” Anu told City Paper at the time. “It was a crazy rollercoaster.”
The ride is over.
After Formant died on Oct. 28, Anu says his family members stepped in to discontinue the lease. Today is Hempburger Cafe & Juice Bar’s last day operating on H Street NE. In addition to juices, Anu sold vegan entrées such as coconut “crabcakes” and avocado quinoa chili. He provided the neighborhood with healthy options for eight years.
Anu originally operated a few doors down inside Dynamic Wellness as Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar, but later signed a deal for a standalone shop at 408 H St. NE. He and his wife sold their Columbia Heights condo to finance the opening. He says he invested $200,000 from the sale into the build-out.
A lifelong entrepreneur, Anu isn’t feeling defeated. “I knew I worked as hard as I could and did all I could do to make all the money I could make,” he says, noting that he was paying $6,500 per month before additional costs like insurance and taxes. Towards the end, he says he was struggling to pay $8,000 per month. “This experience has taught me a whole hell of a lot. Going into the next situation, I’ll have so much that I’ve learned.”
Elizabeth Glover, the founder of Hot Yoga on the Hill, located next door to Anu’s business, was distraught by the news. “It’s a terrible loss for H Street,” she says. “You hate to see an iconic business like Khepra’s leave the corridor, but it was somewhat predictable given that Whole Foods came in and opened a juice bar less than a block away.” She’s troubled by the pattern of large, multi-national corporations pushing out small businesses both in D.C. and nationwide. “This is a story about power.”
Now that Anu knows how much he can pay per square foot to stay in the black, he says he’s actively looking for another brick-and-mortar space. So far he’s excited about an opportunity in Anacostia. In the meantime, he’ll be moving operations to Tastemakers, a culinary incubator located at 2800 10th St. NE in Brookland.
He says a significant number of customers placed juice cleanse orders in the new year and he wants to be able to fulfill them. He also hopes to offer a limited food menu in the near future out of Tastemakers, likely during evening hours. Those who have questions about their orders should call (202) 803-2060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.