Arthur Cribbs, Howard University News Service
Washington, D.C. food staple Busboys and Poets opened its Anacostia location this past March, marking the franchise’s first restaurant east of the Anacostia River. The facility features the restaurant, along with a bookstore and a room dedicated to the late mayor, Marion Barry. While the new location has only been in business for a few weeks, several customers and employees have noted that Busboys and Poets has been a positive addition to the community.
Customer Eric Hayes praised the new opening, saying, “Most importantly, it gives people a place to eat.” In Southeast, the presence of food options has been limited. Considered a food desert, Southeast, Washington, D.C., has only three full-service grocery stores with two in Ward 7 and one in Ward 8, according to a 2016 study by DC Hunger Solutions.
While Busboys and Poets does not serve as a grocery store, the restaurant gives people in the area a food option at a relatively affordable price. The menu features options listed at $10 or less such as their Sweet Potato Pancakes and their French Roasted Turkey Sandwich. In Wards 7 and 8 where obesity rates are over 72 percent, according to the Department of Health, the menu also features healthier alternatives with over 50 items that are either vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free.
In addition to providing a source of food, the business has brought 80 jobs to the community, with several of the employment opportunities going to people from Southeast. “People from the area being hired is always positive because there are so few opportunities here. Hopefully, more companies will come and hire people from the community,” Hayes said.
Opportunities have been scarce in Southeast, where unemployment rates in Wards 7 and 8 are higher than any of the other regions in the District. In June 2018, the unemployment rate in Wards 7 and 8 was 11.3 percent compared to 4.9 percent for the other six wards, according to the Washington, D.C., Department of Employment Services.
Despite the major discrepancy between Southeast and the rest of the city, server Cherylneshia Alexander is optimistic that positive changes are on the way in her community. “In order to change people, you have to change the environment. With this opportunity, workers in Southeast are actually applying and doing an excellent job here,” she said.
Alexander, a native of Washington, D.C., began working at Busboys and Poets last week. She noted that the addition of Busboys and Poets is also changing the public perception of Wards 7 and 8. “People are usually scared to come to Southeast because they think they’ll get shot or get robbed. With this restaurant here, people can see what we’re really all about,” said Alexander.
With musical performances and murals throughout the restaurant, Busboys and Poets has also become a prime location to showcase talent. Bookstore worker Najai Knox said, “This is a great place for local artists to promote themselves and for black people to boost their morale.”
Alexander has also noticed a boost in morale. She said, “Here, people come as they are, congregate and conversate with each other, regardless of their race. For workers, we are a family. The back of our shirts say ‘Tribe’ and it truly feels that way.”
The Anacostia location for Busboys and Poets is located on 2004 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE. For more information, visit busboysandpoets.com.