Meet The Man Behind D.C.’s Famous Soul Food Restaurant

Oji Abbott, Oohh’s and Aahh’s owner, standing outside of the new Brightwood location.

The peaceful ambiance of Ooh’s and Aahh’s on Georgia Avenue NW, one of the newest locations of Washington’s famous soul food restaurant, comprised of savory smells, nostalgic R&B music, and a fully equipped staff.

Owner and executive chef Oji Abbott is a native Washingtonian with over eleven years of professional culinary experience. His early avidity for culinary arts originates from being part of a family with a long line of cooks. “We had a lot of cooks in our family,” said Abbott. “It came naturally.”

Before Ooh’s, Abbott got his first taste of entrepreneurship from selling homemade dinners to people in his Brightwood community. After realizing he could make money by doing what he loved, he perfected his talents at Stratford University in Falls Church, Virginia, where he studied culinary arts.

The drive to establish his own restaurant derived from the depletion of local businesses and restaurants in his community, such as Wilson’s and Goins. Growing up in Brightwood, Abbott describes the increase in the closings of the local soul food restaurants and local businesses around the area.

“You have places that were open for thirty, forty, and fifty years and then they just close down because their sons didn’t want to do it, their daughters didn’t want to do it, they fell on bad times, or the people died,” Abbott says. “All over the city, it was all kinds of different mom and pop shops; but now, you might have three when it used to be thirty.”

The establishment of Abbott’s first soul food restaurant, Oohh’s and Aahh’s, opened in 2003 and calls the busy U Street NW, home to bars and music venues, home. The name of the restaurant is a play on emotions that are intended to be felt by customers.

“When I was thinking about the name for my place, I wanted it to be universal. I wanted it not really to be a word; I wanted it to be more feeling and emotion,” said Abbott. “When a person takes a first bite of something, they say ‘Ooh, that’s good’. When they finish and they’re fully satisfied, they’ll let out an ‘aah’. I found if we can make people ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ with our food, then we’re affecting their whole being.”

The emotion is felt by hundreds of customers on a daily basis as both Washingtonians and tourists come in to enjoy its specialties, including fried chicken wings and macaroni and cheese.

The restaurant media exposure has remained constant throughout its establishment, In 2005 and 2006, Abbott represented the restaurant at the “Food for Your Health” Expo sponsored by NBC TV 4. One of the restaurant’s more notable appearances is in a July 2011 episode of the Food Network’s cable show, “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” hosted by Guy Fieri. Abbott’s most recent accolade for the restaurant is the 2018 Zagat award for having D.C.’s Best for Chicken and Waffles.

Many customers who frequent the restaurant often praise the family-oriented environment, as well as its unique taste and Abbott’s frequent involvement and presence at the restaurant.

“Oohh’s and Aahh’s is one of the only soul food restaurants in D.C. that actually tastes like soul food.” Raen Collymore, one of the restaurant’s frequent customers for the past two years, stated. “The owner [Abbott] is very welcoming, and he’s very interactive with his customers beyond the store.”

Abbott’s staff members at both locations admire his drive and motivation. “He’s always ready for progression,” said front house supervisor Travis Jones.

Abbott saw the peak of his success this past October with the opening of the second location of Oohh’s and Aahh’s in Brightwood. The restaurant partners with WalMart to occupy the larger space. While it concerned many that the development of the WalMart would put several local stores in the area out of business, Abbott alleviated the concerns by becoming the first and only local business in the Brightwood area to partner with WalMart to take over the vacancy in the conjoined space.

WalMart Spokesman Steve Restivo said last year via e-mail about the chain’s desire to partner with local businesses in the area and have them be part of the Georgia Avenue re-development. Within a year, Abbott has turned Oohh’s and Aahh’s into a pivotal contribution to the revamping of his neighborhood.

“Dealing with a major corporation is not as easy as you would like it to be, but it has been a reasonable process,” says Abbott. “[Wal-Mart] has been very positive in helping me succeed. We’ve been doing well because of it.”

The Georgia Avenue opening last October excited many customers and has served as a convenience to many.

“I think it’s great there’s a new location because the location on U Street can get very crowded especially during peak times,” says American University student and frequent customer Jaha Knight. “It’s also great because that means the business is expanding and who doesn’t love the expansion of a black-owned business?”

Abbott said his work remains undone, as he seeks to go on an expansion venture sometime in the future. His next steps are to open more locations in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area before expanding its boundaries across the east coast. His goal is to preserve black culture across the world, especially the genre of soul food. For now, Abbott is focused on the growth of the new Brightwood location.

“We would love to be to a food source all over the planet, but we will start with this one,” says Abbott.