Friends to Entrepreneurs: The Founders Behind a New Union Market Restaurant

The brainchild of three D.C. natives and former high school classmates came to reality in the form of a new café located in Union Market.

The Village Café started as an idea a year ago by founder and creative director Mahammad Mangum. His vision of the restaurant, he said, was to create a business that not only sold food but provided opportunities to the community and local businesses to showcase their work.

“I came up with the vision and brought it to my two friends, one who is into culinary and my other friend who is into business,” says Mangum.

His two friends and fellow founders, Ryan Williams and Kevon King, contributed their talents to the creation of the space. Williams, interested in culinary arts, became the restaurant’s culinary director. King, who majored in international business in college, became the business director of the restaurant.

The trio all attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Ward 4. Counselor Ramona Robertson describes the trio as being hard workers during their high school years.

“[King, Mangum, and Williams] were always close to one another here at Wilson,” stated Robertson. “They never missed school, and I’ve never recalled them receiving major disciplinary action against them as a group nor individually.”

While the restaurant supports local business, the founders highlight Ward 7 and 8. Williams and King, raised in these wards, recognized the need for social and economic resources in their communities. Mangum, who grew up in a developing Ward 4, resonated with the needs of underserved businesses.

“We brought up a massive idea of creating a culinary and innovative incubator in underserved communities as a point to create for others,” says Mangum.

Customers can find coffee and produce from some of the District’s local breweries and gardens in Southeast and Northeast. Places such as D.C. Urban Greens and Southeastern Roastery work with the cafe to bring fresh foods and receive exposure for their businesses while doing so.

“Working with [The Village Cafe] has been a great experience,” says Southeastern Roastery founder Candy Schibli.

“The owners have amazing communication skills, and as a small business owner, it’s great to see a local business highlighting smaller businesses in the area that doesn’t usually receive the recognition it deserves.”

“Majority of the times, [Wards 7 and 8] are underserved and [business owners] don’t get the opportunities to show their work as well as have a place to operate their businesses.”

The founders of the cafe not only provide food but offers spaces for Gallaudet University to have classes, story time activities for children with neighboring bookstores, professional development workshops, as well as an alumni panel of those who graduated from Wilson.

“It’s really about people coming together to work for each other knowing that in a way it’s competition, but we come together to build each other up,” said Mangum.

The Village Café held its grand opening on October 25.

“It’s all about community,” says King.

“We grew up in a community that fostered us into who we are today. It is because of our community that The Village Cafe exists. We look forward to providing a space that is reliable to the community.”