For all the years that he’s been in business, Andy Shallal has never banned a patron from his restaurants. But eight months ago, Richard Fishman became the first.
Fishman has been denied one of the perks of living at the Langston Lofts, at 14th and V Streets NW, above Shallal’s Busboys and Poets Restaurant and Lounge—a popular venue for prominent speakers, authors, and activists. He’d love to stop on his way home to watch a film or hear a visiting author read. But now Fishman is persona non grata.
The dispute arises from a lot of trash-talking. As in: “They keep their trash on our building’s property…and it spills out,” says Fishman. “It’s an attraction for rats and other things.”
Shallal says Fishman’s complaints are unfounded. “I’ve been in business for more than 20 years, and the city has never had a problem,” Shallal says. “It’s a personal vendetta from one person who is, for whatever reason, unhappy with me on a personal level.”
The garbage problem centers on a row of Dumpsters in an alley behind the Langston Lofts building. According to David Bearden, president of the building’s board, the residences upstairs use an industrial trash compactor and residents’ trash is stored mostly inside of the building. But Busboys doesn’t have a trash compactor, and it has to store its trash in the alley. Because the Dumpsters are unlocked behind the building, trash accumulates. And Fishman hates that.
Fishman has taken his case to Shallal, who also owns Luna Grill and previously owned several other restaurants. “The last time I sat down with him personally,” Fishman says, “he told me, in what seemed to me to be a cavalier manner, that the reason that there’s so much trash is because other people come by and dump their trash and that’s just life in the city.”
True enough: Third parties use Dumpsters that don’t belong to them all the time. But Fishman says that’s what lids and locks are for. The city Department of Health concurs—on Feb. 27, the agency cited the building for failure to properly contain garbage, though there is some dispute about exactly whose Dumpsters were noncompliant.
“If your Dumpster is open and other people are putting trash in, you may need to have it dumped every day instead of every other day, as it would be if it’s just your trash,” says Peggy Keller, chief of the agency’s Bureau of Community Hygiene. Although it’s not against the law to have a Dumpster that doesn’t lock, Keller says, the resulting problems that arise when it isn’t locked are.
Shallal says that locking the Dumpsters wouldn’t make a difference. When people dump illegally, they just leave their refuse on the ground. “People bring mattresses; they bring shopping carts,” he says. “People move out and get rid of their stuff and just dump it here. It’s a constant struggle to maintain it.”
And aside from all that, Shallal says, two of the Dumpsters aren’t even his.
He says he’s had to hire an extra employee in the evening to keep all the trash from accumulating in the alley. But Shallal says the issue isn’t about trash at all—he believes Fishman has a personal grudge against him.
According to Shallal, the two’s personal difference goes way back. Eight months ago, Shallal says, Fishman came into the restaurant on a busy Friday night complaining about a customer’s bicycle outside. “He came in here, and he said in a very loud and angry way, ‘You tell whoever the fuck put that bicycle there to get it the fuck out of here,’ ” Shallal says. “The next time I saw him, I said, ‘Richard, please do me a favor; please do not come into my restaurant again.…You mess up the karma. You mess up the vibe.’ ”
Shallal says he filed for a restraining order against Fishman last Friday. But the two have to see each other at regular condo association meetings: Both sit on the five-member board.
According to Bearden, some differences are to be expected. The residents and the restaurant have two different sets of needs. “It’s very common for new buildings to take a while to develop rules and regulations for the use of common space,” Bearden says. “We’re just in that normal process.”
The building’s property manager, Morgan Lerner, says that while the use of common areas has caused friction between the two board members, no agreement has been reached. A draft policy is in the works and should be presented at the next board meeting in a few weeks.
“I’m glad [Busboys is] successful; I’m glad there’s a busy restaurant downstairs—it makes the neighborhood better and the corner safer,” Fishman says. “But what they do inside doesn’t really matter if they can’t be good neighbors.”
Shallal says Fishman just has a habit of making small things big. “It’s irrational. His anger is irrational,” Shallal says. “It goes way beyond a trash Dumpster that’s overflowing.”