When it comes to activism, spoken word or coffee shop bookstore restaurant powerhouse, we’re pretty sure no one has got it down like Busboys and Poets.

Such a place has operated as the playground for foodies, poets, activists and creatives, expanding from one-to-five restaurants within the D.C. Metropolitan area since 2005.

And this weekend, owner Andy Shallal opens his sixth location in Takoma, D.C.

The sold-out grand opening, called “Busboys and Poets ❤ Takoma,” happens on Valentine’s Day.

The private event will feature live music and spoken word along with Busboys and Poets signature drinks and dishes. D.C. mayor, Muriel Bowser, will also make an appearance, Shallal said.

Busboys and Poets Takoma manager Monte Gary, 29, of Hyattsville, Md., said he has been helping prepare for the bash for days on end.

Owner Andy Shallal paints the words of "Tengo" by Afro-Cuban Poet Nicolas for Busboys and Poets Takoma's theme.  (Photo courtesy of David Montgomery/The Washington Post)
Owner Andy Shallal paints the words of “Tengo” by Afro-Cuban Poet Nicolas Guillén for Busboys and Poets Takoma’s theme. (Photo courtesy of David Montgomery/The Washington Post)

“We’ve got veteran staff to run the event happening that night,” said Gary, who worked at the Hyattsville location before assisting in opening Takoma. “It’s been all hands on deck making sure everything is in stock and everything’s here working properly.”

For UMD accounting graduate student and aspiring food business entrepreneur Mary Schulte, Busboys Takoma has been a long time in the making.

“I’ve been anticipating the opening of Busboys Takoma ever since I heard about it when I was living in Takoma Park, which was the winter of 2012,” said Schulte, who said she is excited to see Busboys become a fabric of Takoma. “The intentions behind it and the motivations it employs in its work really embodies the progression of Takoma Park. Having a Busboys there is a very natural fit.”

With Schulte being a vegan, she said she not only enjoys the tempeh sandwich and the orzo pasta, but the fact that it has options for everyone.

“Something that a lot of people appreciate is that it’s very inclusive by offering vegan and vegetarian options, but it also makes an effort to source meat options that are sustainably raised,” Schulte said. “If you’re vegan, and your brother is gluten-free, and your parents have both eaten meat their entire lives, you can all go there and have a nice time.”

Aside from the variety of choices Busboys offers, Schulte admires their effort to be more than just a transactional business.

“I think they’re a great role model for businesses to do more right of the things, like validating staff, sourcing responsibly and truly being a community space,” said Schulte.

So what can we expect from the newest Busboys?

The same vibe so many people have grown to love, Shallal said, but with a new flair.

Like all of Shallal’s restaurants, the newest location will honor a poet legend – Nicolás Guillén, an Afro-Cuban poet who was known and exiled for his activism in the 1950’s.

Shallal dedicated a Busboys’ room to Guillén, similar to the way the 14th and V flagship was dedicated to Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy in D.C. before becoming a world-renowned poet and a leader in the Harlem Renaissance.

“[The space] talks about Guillén’s poetry and his connection to Langston Hughes,” Shallal said.

Shallal has been painting murals and messages of Guillén on the walls of Busboys all week.

“Seeing Andy actually create the murals that he does is cool. One day you’ll come in and he’ll have it certain way,” Gary said. “The next day, you’ll come in, and he had an idea, and it’s something brand new.”

And the food at Busboys Takoma will be no different.

With free wi-fi and larger tables to work, Busboys and Poets Takoma will host a free-shared workspace. (Photo courtesy of Busboys and Poets)
With free wi-fi and larger tables to work, Busboys and Poets Takoma will host a free-shared workspace. (Photo courtesy of Busboys and Poets)

Though the menu will mostly stay the same, boasting organic food, and vegetarian and vegan options, Shallal said the menu will change to accommodate the variety of people that come through Busboys’ doors.

“Dietary restrictions and interests, likes and dislikes – that’s what we do best,” Shallal said. “Maintain the diversity on all the levels, whether it’s the diet that people hold or the community they come from.”

Busboys’ popular mixed drinks “DC Tap Water” and the “Langston Cooler” will make an appearance on the new drink menu, Gary said, but to view the newest additions, you’ll have to wait for the opening.

The new space, Shallal said, will also offer a compass to great poetry and books provided by book purveyor Politics and Pose and will promise staged readings and connections.

With free wi-fi and larger tables to work, Busboys and Poets Takoma will host a free-shared workspace, where Shallal said he will work on a way to create networks for the people who use the space.

Busboys employees sit in the shared workspace prior to the grand opening event. There are still final touches to be made. (Photo courtesy of Busboys and Poets)
Busboys employees sit in the shared workspace prior to the grand opening event. There are still final touches to be made. (Photo courtesy of Busboys and Poets)

“Many a times people are working in a space where they could make great connections,” Shallal said. “It could be a great thing to create synergy between people.”

As far as choosing Takoma as the latest location, the decision was easy. Takoma chose Busboys, Shallal said.

“We always like to think the community chooses us and is appreciative of what we do,” Shallal said. “Takoma is one of those communities. It’s been lobbying for us to come for years and it just seemed like a great fit.”

And other cities seem to be calling for Busboys. The next location is being built in Anacostia with the goal of opening sometime next year.

Editor’s Note: Photos by The Washington Post were given proper approval for our publication to use. 

head2Brittany Britto is a graduate student and can be reached at bbrittoa@gmail.com.

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