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Two D.C. hospitality industry power couples are teaming up to open a “sorta South American” all-day cafe, bar, and restaurant in West End. Mercy Me should open in early 2020 at 1143 New Hampshire Ave. NW.
Daniela Moreira and Andrew Dana watched D.C. go crazy for their pizza dough empanadas at Timber Pizza Co. and stand in the rain for za’atar bagels at Call Your Mother. The engaged duo’s next endeavor is a collaboration with former Doi Moi Executive Chef Johanna Hellrigl and her mixologist husband Micah Wilder of Chaplin’s and Zeppelin.
“At the end of the day, when someone takes a bite of some of this food, I want them to say, ‘Lord have mercy’ or, ‘Mercy me,’” Dana says. The name nods at the Marvin Gaye song “Mercy, Mercy Me.” Dana calls the singer one of D.C.’s finest denizens.
The group just back from visiting Argentina, where Moreira is from. But it wasn’t Hellrigl’s first visit to the region. “When I worked for a democracy building organization we went to South America a lot,” she explains. “I started a network for women in Latin America for 13 countries. It still exists today.” She saw some of them on the trip. “For me, this is really special and hits close to home. There’s more to be explored with South American food in D.C.”
Dana says they’re labeling the neighborhood gathering place “sorta” South American in the same way Call Your Mother is a “Jew-ish” deli and Timber Pizza Co. serves “Neapolitan-ish” pizza. “You know how we do all of our stuff,” he says. “We’ll be pulling from Dani’s background and pulling from Johanna’s travels, but it won’t be super classic. Everything will get a funky twist.”
During the day, Mercy Me will offer everything from pastries and smoothie bowls to larger indulgences. “Every day is a holiday, so treat yourself,” Dana says. “I’m talking about having a huge bagel platter with fish. And a big ass stack of pancakes.” The menus are still being developed, but Dana says dinner will be “kicked up a notch” and paired with cocktails from Wilder.
West End hasn’t gotten the rush of restaurants other neighborhoods have during D.C.’s recent dining boom. Dana says they like to zig when others zag. “Everything is moving east,” he says. “When we look for opportunities, we look for really residential neighborhoods where we can be this gathering place, a center point.” When he inks deals, Dana says, he hopes to build businesses that will be around for generations.
Moriera and Dana have been able to grow while offering above-market benefits to their employees including health care coverage, something that’s never a given in the restaurant industry. They also offer a way for English-speaking staff to better their Spanish language skills and vice versa to improve communication and build camaraderie.
They’ll have a full plate in the coming years. Washington Business Journal reported that Moreira, Dana, and Call Your Mother partner Jeff Zients raised $1.35 million for more bagel shops and a home base for baking. The next shop is slated to open in Georgetown this fall, though there’s been some pushback from Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who is more concerned about confections than conflicts.
Mercy Me will be the anchor restaurant for what representatives call a “new lifestyle hospitality project” opening next year.