Photo of Matt Fox by Phil Andraychak
Photo of Matt Fox by Phil Andraychak

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Outsiders may still think D.C. is a city full of federal workers clacking away at keyboards, but over the past five to 10 years the District has become a pulsating metropolis of creatives, disrupters, and entrepreneurs. One window into how versatile our society has become is to look at the side hustles of D.C.’s restaurant workers. When they’re not taking your order, these D.C. servers and other “front of house” employees are doing everything from refereeing games to making eco-friendly candles.

Drink Company special projects director Matt Fox, hockey referee

If you’ve visited or heard about the Game of Thrones pop-up in Shaw, know that Matt Fox had his hands in it. When he’s not sawing styrofoam dragons, Fox is on the ice. He started officiating hockey games in college in 2006, but things picked up in 2014 when he sought to referee higher-level games and attended training camps conducted by USA Hockey. This past season he worked games in the Southern Professional Hockey League, a pro league made up of teams in the Southeast and Midwest, and the North American Hockey League, which is a Tier 2 Junior League. He also works local youth, high school, and adult league games and has been both a referee and a linesman. “Being a linesman also allows a little more interaction with players, especially when things start getting a little out of hand because the linesmen are responsible for breaking up any rough stuff during a game,” he says.

The Rich & Strange

Jack Rose Dining Saloon server Natalie Pfau, founder, The Rich & Strange

Working at one of the nation’s top whiskey bars, Natalie Pfau has a nose for brown spirits. But she also has an eye for design, so she founded home decor company The Rich & Strange in 2015. “It was born out of my love for handwoven textiles, and that will always be the ‘common thread,’” she says. Working out her Columbia Heights apartment, Pfau makes pillows, throws, and the like from vintage handwoven textiles that she discovers while traveling in Guatemala and Mexico. “The legacy of handwoven textiles runs deep in Mexico, and the range of techniques is endless.” Next up for Pfau is a women’s clothing line. Purchase her work online and at pop-ups around town.

Espita Mezcaleria server Tara Papanicolas, founder, Los Gitanos Vintage

Score some sweet vintage wear thanks to Espita Mezcaleria server Tara Papanicolas. She launched her company in 2012 after spending many years collecting vintage clothing for her career as a wardrobe stylist. Papanicolas has an Etsy store, but you can also find her garb at various local pop-up shops. Pieces include men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, and accessories from the 18th century through the late 1970s. “I travel all over the U.S. and pick the most covetable pieces from each decade, with love,” she says. “For the poet, adventurer, gypsy, heroine, and muse in all of us.”

Efua’s Baby

Carmine’s server Nandi Tonge-Gabremedhin, founder, Efua’s Baby

Nandi Tonge-Gabremedhin would likely smell like Italian red sauce like most of her customers if not for her hand-made soy candle business, Efua’s Baby. It was during a trip to Cuba that Tonge first felt called to try her hand at candle-making. “I had a reading with a Babalawo [priest] who told me I should be burning candles for my deceased mother and grandmother religiously,” she says. Her online store launched in 2016, and she says her biggest sellers are candles and body butter that carry the scent of frankincense and myrrh. The candles are to be used during prayer, meditation, cleansing of spaces, and massage. Her mother changed her name to Efua in the late 1960s, hence the name.

Seth Fromal

Mirabelle captain Seth Fromal, concert pianist

When Seth Fromal isn’t recommending the jambon beurre sandwich at Mirabelle, he’s tickling the ivories. He started playing when he was eight and eventually went on to earn a masters of music in jazz piano performance. Since he only works lunch at the restaurant, Fromal spends his evenings playing paid gigs at places like Columbia Station. He recently formed a trio with a bass player and drummer and plans to record an album in the next few months. Playing in front of crowds prepared him to work in a high-stakes dining room. “Confidence, being able to articulate menu items in a cogent way to guests, and staying calm all work to ensure the guest experience is a positive one,” he says.

Nick Olsen

Nick Olsen, Little Coco’s server, founder, Atwood 3D Fabrication

Watching a 3D printer is mesmerizing. The

ones in Nick Olsen’s basement in Bloomingdale whir away, making everything from spare parts to bag accessories to signs. Olsen started 3D printing two years ago and made his side gig official when he started his company five months ago. While he makes some products for sale—like Sip Clips that can turn any backpack into a hydration pack—he prefers the problem-solving of commission work. He once designed a modified coffee grinder hopper for Larry Weaver, who heads up the coffee program at Maketto. “I’ve been referring to it as being like a ‘martian handyman,’” Olsen jokes. Learning how to do the CAD (computer-aided design) modeling is the hardest part. “I’d say that for now 3D printing is still for professionals or advanced hobbyists.”

Toki Underground server and host Tonia Saba, music producer

When Tonia “T.Sabz” Saba isn’t at Toki Underground, she’s producing music. Two years ago she quit her corporate job in sales for Marriott to pursue music. She’s worked for several studios but now aims to create her own label. It’s hard to tie T.Sabz down to one genre of music. “There’s definitely a huge influence of electronic music, hip-hop, and bass, while making sure that my Lebanese roots stay clear and adding some sounds used heavily in Arabic music,” she says. She’s also focused on lyrics and poetry. “I have a lot to say.” Saba is currently collaborating with Rachel Feldhaus (HausMuzak), a multi-instrumentalist and poet who is also a barista.