Credit: Lela Singh

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Protesters damaged multiple buildings near the White House last night as demonstrations over the death of George Floyd and systemic racism against the black community came to a head at Lafayette Park. 

Among the businesses damaged was the Teaism at 800 Connecticut Ave. NW, which had its front windows smashed. The casual eatery with several locations throughout the city is known for its specialty teas, palak paneer, and bento boxes. 

Footage from inside the restaurant shows a fire blazing in the back of the restaurant near the kitchen. D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services confirms pockets of fire broke out in construction scaffolding and a dumpster in the 800 block of 16th Street NW. Teaism is located on the same block. DC Fire and EMS tells City Paper it isn’t aware of a distinct fire that originated inside the restaurant. 

Teaism addressed the damage just after midnight, tweeting: “Before anyone puts a single word in our mouths. Black lives matter.” Lela Singhruns Teaism’s social media accounts and helps operate Teaism with her mother, Michelle Brown, and Linda Neumann. She woke up this morning after two hours of sleep feeling the same way. 

“Whatever comes next, first and foremost, black lives matter,” Singh says. “I don’t think we have any interest in it being about us. Because it’s not about us. It’s so much bigger. It’s about this moment where we need justice and healing as a country.” 

Upon hearing of the situation, Singh made her way to the restaurant last night. “All of the windows were smashed in,” she says. “The fire was out at that point, but the sprinklers were on. I knew we had insurance. I think we’ll be OK.” 

Singh, Brown, and Neumann, like most restaurant operators, faced difficulties during the COVID-19 crisis. They lost months of revenue and laid off staff. Shortly after Mayor Muriel Bowser closed restaurants to on-premise dining on March 16, Singh told City Paper she felt gutted and anxious.

“Maybe we’ll be able to hold on, but this is a real threat and I don’t think people can understand the ways we might financially crumble even if we get a grant or two grants,” she said at the time. “It’s really hard to know how this is all going to actually play out, and we’ve been stretched thin already.”

Other restaurants impacted by the protests commented on social media over the weekend. Brasserie Beck and Marcel’s, both owned by Chef Robert Wiedmaier, share a twitter account. On Saturday, the restaurants tweeted an apology to their customers. 

Incensed replies called for the tweet to be deleted, which it was. The account later sent a second tweet that addressed the first one. 

On Facebook, Ellen Kassoff, co-owner of long-tenured Equinox Restaurant wrote late last night: “All of the businesses on our block of Connecticut Ave including Equinox have been damaged tonight. We’ve sustained fires and vandalism less than 24 hours after reopening from a global pandemic shut down – we are heartbroken.”

She also shared video of The Oval Room. Someone wrote “The Rich Aren’t Safe Anymore” in red letters of the facade of Ashok Bajaj‘s restaurant. The windows at Opaline on 15th Street NW were also broken

“We will clean the mess and re-open [again!] Tuesday,” Kassoff promised on Facebook this morning. “Staying positive and thankful no one was hurt. As a native Washingtonian – I love my city & always will. I know our tenacity will carry us through. All will be well and Equinox is fine. We hope our friends & neighbors at Teaism, Oval Room, Bombay Club, BB&T, Hay Adam’s and Chamber of Commerce the best and speedy recovery – as neighbors of 21 years on this block know we are there to help each other anyway that we can.” 

Kassoff was among the first to call the Teaism team last night with the news, according to Singh. While Teaism is currently focused on reopening its Dupont Circle location for limited service, Singh says her thoughts are occupied with larger concerns about the future. 

“We’re alive,” she says. “We didn’t die suffocating. I’m more scared for our future as a country and as a city in terms of gentrification and race relations as well as the vitality of our small businesses. We’re already starting to lose places. What else are we going to lose?”