The past year and a half has been a period of exponential expansion for Busboys and Poets. First came news that the local restaurant and bookstore would open a location in Takoma. Next up was the Monroe Street Market in Edgewood. Then there were plans for an Anacostia branch. Finally, last month owner Andy Shallal confirmed that Busboys was in negotiations to open at the former Hecht Company warehouse on New York Avenue NE.
But the latest reported Busboys location would really push the company to a new frontier.
SA Commercial Prop News, a South African commercial real estate news site, reports that the Newtown Junction shopping center will open in Johannesburg on Thursday. “Shopping centre tenants,” the site writes, “include Pick n Pay, Ster-Kinekor, Truworths, the Foschini Group, Mr Price, Busboys & Poets, Life Grand Cafe and Shoprite amongst others.”
Sure enough, Shallal confirms that “there’s a group of people who are thinking of doing a Busboys and Poets in South Africa.” But the former mayoral candidate says it’s “way preliminary” and was surprised to learn that it was reported in SA Commercial Prop News. “I don’t know how it came out in the paper,” he says. “I guess the rules are a little different there, and they talk about it before it happens.”
Shallal says the idea of a South African location for Busboys, whose books focus on progressive social activism, first came up four or five years ago. The group working to open the Johannesburg store consists of investors and activists, including “some poets who have made some connections to people who are in the business world,” according to Shallal. Officials with Atterbury Property Holdings, one of the developers behind the shopping center, did not respond to requests for comment.
People often approach Shallal about opening Busboys locations “in the strangest parts of the world,” he says. He generally tells them to put together a plan, which he’ll then consider. But the South African group has “become more serious than most others have,” Shallal says.
Were the Johannesburg branch to open, Shallal wouldn’t run it, as he does the D.C. locations. Instead, it would be more like a franchise, with Shallal providing guidance.
Still, don’t expect a South African Busboys imminently, and certainly not by Thursday. “The chances of it not happening are more than the chances of it happening at this point,” says Shallal.
Image from Busboys and Poets