How busy was it at Busboys & Poets on 14th Street NW during inaugural weekend? Well, according to owner Andy Shallal, it was so busy that three employees quit, including a manager.
“They just cracked and left…I had one employee just say, ‘I can’t do this'” and walk out, says Shallal during a phone conversation today. “We had one person decide to go join the circus.” Shallal can’t stop laughing at that memory.
“But weren’t they already working at a circus?,” I wondered to Shallal.
“Yeah,” Shallal says about the employee who had designs on circus life well before the three-ring inauguration. But during the crush, the employee said, “Since I’m already there, I might as well as go do it,” Shallal adds.
You can’t blame the employees for cracking. Busboys & Poets stayed open 24 hours a day during the inauguration and became something of a pilgrimage site for every lefty who wanted to be part of Barack Obama history: You ate at B&P, you genuflected at the Mall, you went home. Oh, and you bought a book at Busboys.
Shallal says the bookstore within the restaurant sold $8,400 worth of merchandise in a 24-hour period between Sunday, Jan. 18, and Monday, Jan. 19. The other days were not bad, either, the owner says. On an average, non-inauguration day, the bookstore pulls down maybe $1,000 a day, Shallal says.
Then there were the diners: From 11 a.m. Saturday until the Tuesday night after the inauguration, the restaurant was almost always full, with a significant line to get it. Sometimes, there was a line at 5 a.m. On a typical weekend, Busboys probably serves 1,500 people a day, the owner says. During the four-day inauguration weekend, it served closer to 5,000 people a day.
And they served all those people with only a few extra employees brought on for an added, late-night shift, Shallal says. “One employee worked 30 hours straight,” he says. The owner himself worked 16- to 17-hour days, always taking the much-dreaded overnight shift. It didn’t help that media sources around the country continued to hype Busboys & Poets; the pieces, including Anthony Bourdain‘s No Reservation show on D.C., only contributed to the crash of humanity waiting to get inside.
“That was bad timing,” Shallal says about Bourdain’s segment on B&P. “We’d rather have it hit at another time, like in the summer when the recession really hits.”