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I’m not sure if the two local restaurant icons coordinated their timing, but something seems auspicious in the news coming out today that burger joint Shake Shack will open a D.C. location and Busboys and Poets will be probably be expanding its operations to Harlem. The two establishments enjoy similarly devoted followings in their respective cities—Upper West Siders almost peed their pants when Shake Shack came to 77th and Columbus—and both are making very smart choices in their new locations.
Here’s the difference, though: Along with places like D.C. and Miami Beach, Shake Shack is still expanding aggressively within New York City, since it’s mostly a burger dispensary as opposed to a destination hangout spot. Busboys, rather, trades in part on its uniqueness and local feel; if Busboys achieved the ubiquity of Starbucks, that would defeat the purpose.
So Harlem seems like the most logical next step, and I’m sure the new location will be wildly successful. But it’s also a little bit of a strange fit, because of the Obama-cool mantle Busboys has assumed. It’s almost jarring, thinking of Busboys’ self-satisfied progressivism settling into the more disaffected and unconsciously cool landscape of New York. To see what I mean, read Eve Fairbanks‘ classic take on Busboys from immediately post-inauguration in The New Republic. This is a D.C. institution in all sorts of ways. Of course, Harlemites—or, more likely, Columbians in need of places to do homework and go on dates—may not even notice.