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Nearly four years ago, WCP senior writer Jason Cherkis explained the woeful state of the sit-down restaurant in Ward 8. He summed it up in one concise sentence: “Ward 8’s culinary culture right now is the carryout.”  Consider this excerpt:

People don’t power-lunch in Ward 8. For the most part, people who eat out communicate over Styrofoam trays at bus stops, on stoops, in cars—inevitably lukewarm, fried, and hurried. Some may sit and have breakfast at Cole’s Cafe or lunch at Player’s, but the community’s bigwigs don’t count those as sit-down restaurants. When they think of sit-downs, they’re thinking of chains that have long stacked the suburbs. “I count sit-down as Outback, Applebee’s,” says James Bunn of the Ward 8 Business Council. “I want to go to someplace where I really enjoy—Red Lobster, Applebee’s. My cultural restaurants.”

Big Chair Coffee N’ Grill won’t change the dining culture in Anacostia all by itself, but the shop’s opening yesterday was a cause for celebration for many in Ward 8. Housing Complex‘s Ruth Samuelson was there on opening day and filed a report. Here’s a nice moment from her item:

Anthony Muhammad, ANC Chair for 8A, sat toward the end of the bar eating a veggie burger and fries. For over a year, his constituents have been asking about Big Chair: “When is it going to open? What kind of coffee are you going to have? Is it going to be better than Starbucks?” he relays.

I asked the obligatory “What does it all mean?” question: What does this opening signify about growth east of the river?

“It signifies that people don’t have to go across the bridge for a cup of coffee,” said Muhammad.

Surely, a point no one can argue.

I asked Samuelson if she tried Big Chair’s coffee and she said it was “so-so.” There seems to be a good reason for that, though. According to DCist, the shop is getting by with mid-grade java until it can establish an Ethiopian connection. Writes DCist’s Kriston Capps:

It is difficult to judge the coffee, since Big Chair is only serving Java brand coffee for the time being; they have not yet received the beans that they plan to import from Ethiopia and roast on site. D explained that it was difficult to import coffee from Ethiopia nowadays because so many farmers have switched from growing coffee to growing khat, a chewable leaf that is a stimulant. (Councilmember Barry asked, “Make you high?”)

Photo by Ruth Samuelson