Frank Mills
Frank Mills Credit: Antoine Lyers

Free sandwiches became a currency of support and solidarity at Saturday’s mass protest against police brutality and racism following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of racist crimes.

Thamee made Burmese Buffalo chicken hoagies with spicy hoisin sauce and vegetarian hummus sandwiches with fresh veggies. Queen’s English went the sweet route with peanut butter and condensed milk sandwiches. Silver Lyanbuilt kale and chicken sandwiches. Maydan made vegan chili sandwiches similar to a Sloppy Joe, and World Central Kitchen offered sandwiches stuffed with ham, salami, cheddar, and a roasted garlic-mustard aioli.

Red Light, Capitol Lounge, The Hamilton, Left Door, Barcode, Chaplin’s, Rewind by Decades, Red Bear Brewing Co., and sPACYcLOUd were among the countless other restaurants and bars that stepped up on Saturday and Sunday.

The D.C. hospitality industry showed up in full force, from small mom-and-pop shops to institutions like Old Ebbitt Grilland Ben’s Chili Bowl. In addition to providing those marching with fuel, many downtown restaurants and bars opened their doors to people looking to cool off, use the restroom, and charge their phones. 

Roy Boysbegan offering protestors the restaurant’s OG Fried Chicken Sandwiches with shredded lettuce, pickles, and fancy sauce early last week. When word got out that beverage director Frank Mills and manager Coey Becker were looking to feed as many people as possible, donations started pouring into a Venmo account Mills set up. They received $12,000 in four days, according to Mills, and put the money toward food, supplies, and transportation. What they couldn’t use, they donated.

In addition to fried chicken sandwiches, Roy Boys handed out cans of Red Bull and cheesecake that sales reps donated, as well as individual portions of mac and cheese for vegetarians. On Saturday alone Mills and Becker gave out 650 fried chicken sandwiches utilizing the Roy Boys van that Mills typically uses to ferry alcohol between the restaurant’s two locations in Shaw and Navy Yard. 

“It was about giving people the energy to commit to protesting for people who look like myself,” Mills says. “The energy to allow them to have their voices heard and pick up momentum. The individuals who have lost their lives in recent history as well as in the generational lengths of history have looked like me and my family members and my future kids.”

While Mills’ parents are from Ghana, he was born in the U.S. “These people genuinely wanted Black Lives Matter to be such a topic of conversation that they were willing to stand out in heat and torrential rain storms while they were being threatened by an actual military with bulletproof vests and machine guns,” he says. “A lot of them don’t have the heritage that ties back to Africa.”

The past two weeks have occasionally brought Mills to tears. “Even though this is such a heightened emotional state of my own, I’ve been finding a lot of space to smile and cherish what I was able to accomplish,” he says.

For D.C. bartender and server Allison Lane, supporting protesters became extremely personal after she was among those trapped by police on Swann Street NW last Monday. Lane, who most recently worked at Cranes and The Anthemtook refuge inside Rahul Dubey’s home and began live-tweeting the tense situation as it unfolded.

“Now that I have a platform, I feel it would be irresponsible for me not to use it,” Lane says. She serves as the president of the recently founded Bartenders Against Racism. The core team includes Jewel Murray, Hannah BrehmMat CabralAlex AndersonMiriam Lippin, and Josef Palermo. Even Dubey is involved. He was once a bartender, according to Lane.

Together they served as “supply-tenders” throughout the past week’s protests. “We’re out of work, but we felt a call, a purpose,” Lane says. Her team grew from five people to 50 nearly overnight. “We organized really quickly,” she says. On Saturday, they set up shop at The Gibson, where they built 400 protest kits stocked with water and snacks. “That was our most immediate need,” Lane says. “The other things will follow. We wanted to do what we could.” 

Lane and her team are thinking big. “There are other things we want to take care of, like racism in the service industry,” she says. “I’m not seeing black and brown people protected. I’m not seeing the same opportunities for training and development. We’re addressing that.” 

They also hope to figure out the best ways to support their undocumented colleagues and develop resources for workers struggling with mental health. Bartenders are doing this work while also experiencing emotional trauma. Bartenders Against Racism is currently acquiring nonprofit status with the pro bono help of lawyers. 

Morgan Stanaheaded up efforts out of Silver Lyan inside the Riggs Hotel. She’s the general manager of the bar that’s been closed during the pandemic. While laid off, she’s focused her efforts on the Friends & Family Meal initiative she founded with Mike Alves. They buy produce from local farmers and distribute it to laid off hospitality professionals. “What we do is try to help the community and keep people fed and healthy,” Stana says. “This is a continuation of that.”

Her employer was game for using the hotel’s kitchen to stack sandwiches over the weekend. A few restaurants dropped off supplies or helped Stana set up her booth, including Mola, A Rake’s Progress, Emilie’s, and Maydan

“Feeding people is what I do and what I’ve always done,” Stana says. “My job is hospitality. Continuing that is unquestionable. Living in D.C. is so important. I fell in love with the city and moved here in large part because you can be political. I think politics belongs in bars. I think you need to talk about things.”

Both Maydan and Compass Rose, helmed by Executive Chef Marcelle Afram, opened as “safe zones” on Saturday. The move was inspired by the theater community’s Open Your Lobby initiative. They had hand sanitizer, water, phone chargers, and snacks at the ready. Ten people were allowed to enter at a time.

“We saw a need to empower the staff,” Afram says. “We got on a Zoom call with as many staff members as possible and let them have the platform. The staff was like, ‘Let’s make a bunch of sandwiches.’ Everybody kind of had the same idea.”

“Growing up in the D.C. area and being privy to so much demonstration, especially when I was younger, I don’t remember anything like that being available,” Afram says. “I think people appreciated it. It’s a simple gesture. You do what you can. There’s no other way.”

Beuchert’s Saloon Executive Chef Andrew Markert also felt compelled to open his doors. “In a tough time it was really nice and uplifting to have people come in and thank us and have friends stop by,” he says. “It brought a bit of normality to be able to talk to friends and people coming by about their experiences protesting.” 

On Saturday he set up his Capitol Hill restaurant with bottles of water, sandwiches, fruit, and candy that a regular customer dropped off. “We also had masks that I recently purchased for staff and little bottles of hand sanitizer,” he says. “We put a power strip on the bar for phone charging and had bathrooms available.” 

Beuchert’s Saloon has long been involved in supporting causes in the community. Back in 2016, for example, Markert led an effort to fundraise for organizations fighting gun violence. This past weekend was yet another reminder that the D.C. hospitality industry frequently answers the call whenever the city and its residents need help.