Andy Shallal announces his plans for a Busboys and Poets at the site of the future restaurant in Anacostia.
Andy Shallal announces his plans for a Busboys and Poets at the site of the future restaurant in Anacostia.

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Addressing a community eager for neighborhood amenities but fearful of rising prices and displacement, Busboys and Poets proprietor Andy Shallal announced his plans this morning for the expanding restaurant chain’s latest location in Anacostia and pledged, “Our intention is not to push people out.”

Shallal signed a 20-year lease last week for the space at 2004-2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, a vacant former furniture store, and paid his first installment of rent. He expects to begin buildout for the restaurant next summer. It will be accompanied by a culinary training center, which Shallal pledged would ” be a real job-training program” rather than “a money-laundering scheme,” channeling neighborhood frustrations with past promises of employment opportunities.

Previous Busboys locations have opened in neighborhoods on the cusp of a development boom, from the U Street NW corridor to Mount Vernon Triangle, and stores are planned for Takoma and Brookland. Shallal is aware that Busboys has a reputation as a harbinger of development—-or, to critics, gentrification. 

“When you create a place like this,” he said, “it becomes a magnet for other things to happen.”

Anacostia residents have been grappling with the delicate balance between attracting the restaurants and retail the neighborhood lacks and wants and avoiding the displacement that’s forced longtime residents out of newly developing neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. Neighbors have opposed projects dominated by affordable housing, fearful that they won’t bring the incomes needed to bring new retail investment in the neighborhood. But some have also been wary of excessive density that they worry could transform Martin Luther King Avenue into the next 14th Street NW in Logan Circle or Columbia Heights.

At this morning’s announcement, the energy was all positive. The crowd of neighborhood leaders, developers, and curious Anacostia residents cheered loudly for Shallal when he got up to speak. “I feel the love in this room,” he told them, “and I’m going to give it right back to you all.”

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Greta Fuller and ARCH Development Corporations Nikki Peele hold a sign Fuller initially made two years ago to lure Busboys to the neighborhood.s Nikki Peele hold a sign Fuller initially made two years ago to lure Busboys to the neighborhood.

The Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, a community group, bought the building in 2012 and will have its offices above the restaurant. Shallal said this landlord-tenant arrangement will ensure that Busboys money is being put to good neighborhood use. “The rent that I’m going to pay is going to go to the community the Collaborative serves,” he said.

Keyonna Jones, a 26-year-old Anacostia resident who attended the event, expects the Busboys to be a boon both to the neighborhood and to her own day-t0-day experience. “I’m excited,” she says. “It’ll save me a trip so that I don’t have to go to 14th Street or Hyattsville.” Anacostia has had few sit-down restaurants in recent years, although the opening of Nurish Food & Drink and the re-opening of Uniontown Bar and Grill and have brought new options.

“We have a bad reputation,” Jones says of the neighborhood. “So it’ll give people a chance to see what we’re about.”

Collaborative president Eugene Kinlow beamed as he addressed the crowd and narrated the Collaborative’s history, with this new development as its capstone. “It’s a great day in Anacostia,” he proclaimed, “because it’s morning again.”

Turning to the man of the hour, he declared, “Thank God for the ubiquitous Andy Shallal!”

Photos by Aaron Wiener