Photos: Antwon Maxwell

Creative Coworking At The Suites by Galaxy 5000

Entrepreneur Adilisha Patrom has found creative ways to solve her needs and those of the people around her throughout her career. As an interior design student, Patrom was led “on a journey to dive more into the hair extension industry” after her own experience with a scalp infection from her extensions. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find Patrom at the helm of Galaxy 5000, her own company created to fill a void in ethical, healthy hair extensions.

Though her business with Galaxy 5000 continues to bud, she found another need not being met: an affordable, accessible space for creatives and entrepreneurs representing all sorts of businesses to hone in on their vision and be their best. Ever the problem solver, Patrom is now the founder and CEO of The Suites by Galaxy 5000, a new coworking space on Florida Avenue that’s not your average row of offices.

“I started to realize that there were a lot of things that we were lacking,” she says. “In this day and age of social media, I just knew from working on shoots and with graphic designers, there are different elements that you need to put together a whole business. For a lot of startups, you don’t have the resources to be able to bring together that team to execute your vision.”

That’s where Patrom and her team at The Suites come in. While she wanted to use the space for her own business, she quickly came to the realization that if she was coming up on specific roadblocks, other creators must be too. At their Northeast location, you’ll find unique meeting rooms and coworking nooks in the same space as beauty suites, a recording studio, and rooms equipped for photo and video shoots.

Patrom says The Suites, which opened in September, can host events, pop-up shops and more. She used her interior design background to curate a space that’s professional and inspiring but still adaptable to the needs of all those who come to the space to get work done.

“If a brand wants to come in and do a beauty experience, they can use the full space. There can be different activations for their experience. It allows for people to be able to create an experience. We tried to design it in a way that it can fit different brands and aesthetics, but it can also be personalized. This space is so flexible. It really can be adjusted to be used for anything.”

At the heart of Patrom’s coworking space is her desire for DC creatives to also have a place to connect with one another. As the city’s multifaceted communities produce more and more content through every medium, she knows competition will naturally come with it. While that inevitable spirit always shines through, especially in a fast-paced city, she still believes collaboration and community will take professionals even further with a place like The Suites to connect them.

“I know that as creatives, sometimes we get stuck in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. It makes it hard for us to go outside the box, especially when developing relationships within communities. What I’m hoping is that it can create an environment for more collaboration rather than competition. It’s also DC, so everybody’s very driven and ready to get to the next level. I just want people to realize we can all get to the next level with the use of the resources around us because they can go so much further.”

The Suites at Galaxy 5000: 1002 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.thesuitesdc.com

CityLab 2018 in Detroit, Michigan // Photo: courtesy of The Atlantic

CityLab Offers City Leaders Chance to Collaborate

Cities are complex ecosystems with people coexisting while constructing a unique cultural footprint. In the United States, city officials are elected by the citizens whom they serve and are entrusted with maintaining the good while improving the bad.

We’ve seen Parks and Recreation, so we can say with a sort of fictional confidence that the jobs of folks operating a city government are tremendously difficult. But so are the jobs of artists, culinary professionals and business owners who are tasked with cultivating a city’s culture, making it more vibrant and relevant to the people who live there.

“[City] issues are paramount to the world,” says Margaret Low, president of AtlanticLIVE, the events arm of The Atlantic. “We all came together and decided we could build things better together than apart and became a partnership.”

CityLab was formed by members of The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2013. The annual conference is hosted for people who run cities across the globe and features panels, discussions and activities all geared toward finding solutions for universal challenges. This year’s conference is being held in the District on October 27-29.

“This year’s theme is about power: who has it and how it’s used,” Low continues. “This made Washington especially interesting. DC is a city, like many others, with a deep local cultural history. Though the federal government often moves slow, the city government finds solutions and improvises. There’s a lot to learn about how the city has evolved and grown.”

As a collective, cities often face similar challenges to one another, which is why CityLab helps them connect.

“Housing [and] transportation [are] huge issues in any city,” Low says. “Gentrification, climate change, jobs, culture, music, etc. For any conference, you examine what issues and hot topics will captivate people attending.”

While DC provides the backdrop for this year’s conference, there will also be some District flair onstage as a number of notable locals are set to speak including Mayor Muriel Bowser, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Chuck Brown Band leader Frank Sirius and On Tap’s October cover star, chef Kwame Onwuachi.

Low adds, “When you think about DC, you think about the shining stars in the city who have particularly great stories. When you’re putting people on a stage, you want people who are captivating storytellers.”

However, invited leaders aren’t only coming to CityLab to sit and listen, as the conference is built on the ideology of communication. Some of the issues addressed require solutions so big, collaboration is essential.

“There’s so much noise and so much coming at you, and there’s something so powerful about bringing people together to listen, talk and grapple with big questions in a thought-provoking way,” Low elaborates. “I think people really value it. I see it every day. It’s a chance to learn about how people tackle unifying issues.”

Though CityLab is an invite-only conference not open to the public, it still serves the public and provides elected officials on a global scale a chance to make the world a better place, one city at a time.

For more information about CityLab 2019 and to watch a live stream of the event, visit http://citylab2019.theatlantic.com.

Photo: courtesy of Beetle House

Spooky Soirées

As adults, our Halloween event options are typically limited to costume parties with kegs and bar crawls with rail drinks. While we’re not opposed to dressing up as a Sailor Moon character and getting buzzed, DC has more to offer than your typical All Hallows’ Eve celebration. Why not elevate your experience and party at a historic cemetery or peep a super obscure horror flick? What we’re saying is: switch things up this year and do something spooky or weird or both. Read on for our off-the-beaten-path Halloween event picks.

THROUGHOUT OCTOBER

Beetle House
Beetle House celebrates Halloween every single day. To make October 31 special, this gothic lounge bar will host performances and a costume contest. “When it comes to the actual holiday, we go all out,” says Todd Luongo, who partnered with Beetle House creator Zach Neil on the new DC location. There are two floors of horror. The first features art made of real human bones, haunted photos and more in addition to a dining space. And the second? “Our second floor is our bar [and] theater where we put the ‘fun’ in funeral, themed as a Tim Burtonesque look into the afterlife,” Luongo continues. Their signature drinks include The Beetle’s Juice and the Big Fishbowl for two. 21-plus. 816 H St. NE, DC; www.beetlehousenyc.com

Hex
For a bewitching night out, come to Hex. Get spooky for costume contests every Thursday in October. The best costume each night will receive a free bottle of champagne. Learn your future with a tarot reader, Tuesday through Friday all month between 6:30 p.m. and midnight. Hex will host a witching hour starting October 1 with special elixirs to sip from midnight to close on Tuesday through Friday. 21-plus. 1539 7th St. NW, DC; www.hexbardc.com

Slash Run
Beer. Burgers. Rock ‘n’ roll. Halloween. Throughout the month, be sure to check out one of Slash Run’s festive events. There are free movie nights featuring horror flicks such as Pet Cemetery and The Fly (the 1986 remake with Jeff Goldblum). Breakfast has never been so campy with a Beetlejuice-themed brunch. Other activities include pumpkin painting, Halloween cover shows and karaoke. Hallowzine will consist of zinesters, comedians and storytellers sharing scary tales. Various dates, times and ticket prices. 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com 

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10

October NGA Nights: After Hours at the National Gallery of Art
There’s a mystery to solve at the National Gallery of Art. Join after hours for a fun night of sleuthing and discoveries. Explore the gallery’s extensive art collection like a detective and learn the secrets hiding in the artwork. There will be pop-up talks, dancing and music by Les the DJ. 6-9 p.m. Free to attend. The National Gallery of Art East Building: 4th Street in NW, DC; www.nga.gov

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19

Hocus Pocus
Join the National Museum of American History in celebrating the spooky season with Disney’s Hocus Pocus, the 90s classic about three kids who accidentally free a coven of witches. In addition to the 35 mm film screening, there will be a party including drinks, music, dancing and giveaways. Costumes are encouraged, so be sure to wear some witchy attire. Party tickets include two drink tickets. Various times. Tickets $9-$36. The National Museum of American History: 1300 Constitution Ave. NW, DC; www.americanhistory.si.edu

MONDAY, OCTOBER 21 

Boos & Brews
For a night of scary good fun, Boos & Brews is bringing Halloween early. Go on a ghost tour around the famous landmark, play some games and enter the costume contest. DJ EPX will be spinning while delicious food and beer from various breweries will be featured. Each ticket purchase will come with a voucher for two free beers. 21-plus. 6-9 p.m. Tickets $20. National Building Museum: 401 F St. NW, DC; www.nbm.org

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25 

Costumes & Cocktails
Suns Cinema is bringing an entire month of fright to the city, featuring over 45 horror films. “We don’t find a lot of horror movies to be that scary, but even the horror films that aren’t scary can be entertaining,” says Suns co-owner David Cabrera. If you’re looking for a movie that is actually scary, he recommends The Exorcist. “It still holds up as terrifying, and it’s a DC classic.” Join Suns Cinema for Costumes & Cocktails: there will be spooky food, music and visual projections. Try one of the horror-themed cocktails including Rye Rye My Darling, a devilish punch of some kind, and the Blood Rage, a spicy negroni. 9 p.m. Suns Cinema: 3107 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC; www.sunscinema.com

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26

Eighties Mayhem: 80s Halloween Dance Party
Get ready to dance to the best alt sounds of the 80s featuring DJs Steve EP, Missguided and Killa K. The themes are REDRUM in the red room and Ghostbusters in the main room. Last year’s party sold out and was a big success, so get tickets before they sell out! Costumes are encouraged. 9 p.m. – 2:15 a.m. Tickets $15. Black Cat DC: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 31

Rhizome Halloween Blowout
Rhizome is bringing the beats and noise this Halloween. This nonprofit community space is known for its innovative art, and this blowout will put a new spin on Halloween. DC native Sir E.U will be featured and is likely to perform a track off his 2019 album Red Helly / Twin Towers. Nashville artist B|_ank will be there showing off his experimental A/V drumming. Check out Rhizome’s Facebook page and website for more details to come. All ages. 8-11 p.m. Tickets $10. Rhizome: 6950 Maple St. NW, DC; www.rhizomedc.org

Wizard Fest: A Harry Potter Party
Still waiting on your Hogwarts letter? The wait is over – celebrate Halloween with Wizard Fest. This Harry Potter-themed DC pop-up party is sure to bring magic to the night. HP fans can enjoy themed trivia, music and a costume contest. For witches and wizards over 21, there will be specialty drinks such as polyjuice potion and butterbeer. Put your name in the Goblet of Fire for a chance to win a trip for two to London. 8 p.m. Tickets $25-$75. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1

Boneyard Bash
What better place to spend Halloween than a cemetery? Congressional Cemetery is hosting a costume party filled with music, dancing, an open bar and plenty of fun. In addition to a few surprises, there will be a few famous DC residents including the ghost of Mayor Marion Barry. 21-plus. 8 p.m. – 1 a.m. Tickets $55. All profits go to the Association for the Preservation of the Historic Congressional Cemetery. Congressional Cemetery: 1801 E St. SE, DC; www.congressionalcemetery.org

Photo: Delvinahair Productions

Letters to Tyson: Neil deGrasse Tyson Talks New Book, Twitter and Society’s Hunger for Science

“Do people write letters anymore? Not much.”

I’m sitting in an office phonebooth talking with arguably the most famous living scientist. At 60 years old, Neil deGrasse Tyson remembers the days when email and social media weren’t the most obvious vehicles for thoughtful discourse with people who followed his work. Instead, the best method was sitting in a room and typing or writing a letter.

“With letters, you get to pause and sit back and think about when someone sits down and composes a question, and they think that my life experience and expertise might illuminate a path they need to choose.”

Some letters required more from Tyson than others, forcing him to learn contextual foundations for which he’d root his answers in or making him dig deep into his own personal background to deliver a well-thought-out opinion, complete with humor and a personal vignette.

He’s been receiving letters for the better part of 30 years, keeping copies of ones he deems entertaining, thoughtful and worth revisiting. His latest book Letters from an Astrophysicist, hitting shelves on October 8, features 100 of his favorite letters – yet another opportunity to learn from one of the most renowned educators on the planet and perhaps in the universe.

With a book release comes a book tour, including a stop at Warner Theatre on October 23. Before reading Tyson’s collection of letters or hearing him speak live, read our conversation with the brilliant scientist.

On Tap: Do people still write letters? I feel like you could have just as easily made a book of your Twitter responses.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Do people write letters anymore? Not much. The communication channel tends to be Twitter and I’ve considered a Twitter book, but there’s no hurry for that. I put a lot of effort into my tweets, more than people think. I think long and hard to tweet, and it’s a big responsibility because I communicate with a lot of people – nearly 14 million people directly. A tweet triggers a neuron synapses snapshot of the collective brain, because I see people respond. If I say something funny and people laugh, then that works. And if they don’t, then I have to figure out why.

OT: How would you describe the book’s format?
NDT: The letters span a range of 30 years and most of them are from a specific 10-year span, and another set of letters are more open. For example, I wrote an open letter to my extended family and colleagues after I escaped lower Manhattan on 9/11 and was home and witnessed everything that had happened. I wrote a letter to NASA when I turned 60, and I compared and contrasted NASA and my own 60 years of life – that’s the opening of the book. I end the book with a letter to my father, but it’s a eulogy in the form of a letter. So, the book is bookended by letters – not individuals’ letters, but open letters. It’s a combination of all of the above.

OT: What about these letters stood out to you enough that you’d want to print them for readers?
NDT: This book is not, “Let me learn astrophysics,” and that’s not why these people have written to me. You get to share in their angst and see how a scientist and educator replies. Nearly every one of these letters probe people’s attitudes and beliefs and fears. Often scientists are associated with cold, meticulous content. You have to do that in the lab. But when you’re not in the lab, you have these human feelings too.

OT: What kind of letters made the cut? What about this selection proved to create a special narrative?
NDT: What I noticed was, some letters I invested more in my answers than others and it was because the person was coming from a place that deserved more attention than “Yes,” “No” or “Check out this website.” If it was more personal, more introspective, I would devote more energy to my replies. Then I’d finish and say, “You know, this has some good stuff in it.” So I kept a copy. I did that for about 15 or 20 years. There was 500 total that I kept in a folder. These are letters that had a little extra creative dimension to the replies. Culling those to the best 100 of them, that became the book.

OT: When you were looking back on all these letters and personal messages, did you think about how much different it would be if you received or composed these letters as you are now?
NDT: That happens on several levels. The first is, I could compose that sentence better than I could 10 or 20 years ago, so I reserve the right to clarify the sentences [laughs]. My letters are edited for clarity and the people’s letters are edited for length. Generally, I don’t reply to something unless I have researched the subject thoroughly. Often, they’re so well-researched that it’s not likely to be improved later on. I did a lot of research on religion. Why? Because people asked me about it, so I said I couldn’t reply unless I had some foundational knowledge on what the hell I’m talking about. If someone asks me about how God relates to science, I can’t just answer it from a scientific point of view. When you [ask], “Have I grown or evolved?” [the answer is], I evolve in the moment before I reply.

OT: You’re doing the book tour in a ton of places. Does it mean more to you to have these kinds of discussions in DC where national decisions get made by politicians?
NDT: Most public talks I give are not book-based. This little stretch is specific to the book. Generally, when I give talks in DC, my commentary that frames the content or the humor that I lean toward tends to be more DC-oriented. The flavor is definitely a DC flavor, knowing there will be movers and shakers there or an article could be written that could be read by a mover or shaker. Talks are not cookie-cutter in that sense. For example, one of the letters in the book rails against me for advocating for tax funding going toward NASA, so I might bring that up in DC. I might select letters more befitting to that region in the country.

OT: You’ve written several books in the past few years, and you’ve obviously had success with “Star Talk,” your visits on the longform “Joe Rogan Experience,” etc. Have you noticed an uptick in the hunger people have for science, and specifically astrophysics and theoretical physics?
NDT: I wonder if it’s not that the hunger is up, but it’s the ability to reveal that they’re hungry. How could The Big Bang Theory sitcom have been number one for so long? If you look at the list of long-running number one shows, it’s in the top few of that list. So, how did that happen? Where did that come from? I think I am on that landscape as someone who is sharing the joys of science with the public, and I’m delighted to recognize and report that there is a hunger out there. There’s a lot of ways to do it: videos, podcasts, etc.

OT: You’ve had a tremendous amount of success blending your knowledge with pop culture. Do you sometimes feel like you’re one of the first stops people make on their journey to looking into science?
NDT: That’s true, however, I would worry about it if I was the sole driver of this. Look at how many Twitter followers NASA has, or the Instagram followers Nat Geo has. Go look at the Facebook page I f–king love science [Ed. Note: we did, and over 25 million people like it]. Whatever role I’m playing in this landscape, no matter how large it is, there are larger things at play. It would be weird if I was the driving force. My goal is always to get people interested in science, and I’m happy to be a guide to the cosmos. But it’s the science, not the person.

See Neil deGrasse Tyson speak at Warner Theatre on October 23.
Discussion begins at 7:30 p.m., tickets $67.50.

For more about Letters from an Astrophysicist, visit www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson or follow him on Twitter @neiltyson

Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC; 202-783-4000; www.warnertheatredc.com

Kevin Tien and Carlie Steiner Focus on New Culinary Concepts

As rising stars in the restaurant industry, Kevin Tien and Carlie Steiner created a supernova in late 2016. Their debut restaurant in Petworth garnered an impressive mass of accolades during just three years in business, and then suddenly, Himitsu was gone.

The ending wasn’t as dramatic as a star exploding. It was abrupt yet amicable – the best choice for all parties involved as each owner grew their own empire. Many are mourning the loss of the quirky, welcoming restaurant, but the death of Himitsu marks the birth of two even more interesting concepts.

Tien announced his new restaurant last year. Emilie’s has a much larger footprint than Himitsu, and expectations are high.

“It’s pretty ambitious, what we want to do,” he says. “It was only right to me to focus my attention all on Emilie’s or else I don’t think we would be able to open a really great restaurant.”

Though Himitsu was Tien’s first restaurant, in partnership with Steiner, it wasn’t the one he first dreamed of opening.

“When I originally wrote up the plan for a restaurant many, many years ago, Emilie’s was actually that original business concept, with a cart-style service.”

Now, he’s poised to open Emilie’s on Capitol Hill in early to mid-October. His vision for the concept is to cultivate a dining experience focused on sharing.

“Growing up, sharing meant going out to eat dim sum with my family,” he says.

Emilie’s will feature carts roving around the dining room, as well as large-format, family-style entrées with shareable sides. The menu will incorporate flavors and dishes from around the country and the world, while reflecting from the kitchen team’s backgrounds. He’s calling it new American, but not in the sense you might expect.

“Before, I think American was very steak and potatoes and roast chicken or casseroles, but I think American looks very different now,” he continues. “There’s Italian food, there’s Ethiopian food, there’s Asian cuisine. That’s what American food really is now.”

As a nod to Tien’s Louisiana upbringing, there will be a fried chicken dinner with caviar deviled eggs. His Vietnamese heritage will be represented by family-style woven noodles served with various fish sauces and grilled items. Himitsu fans won’t find Tien’s famous hamachi crudo – but he promises there will be a crudo of some sort – honoring the 12 years he spent cooking Japanese cuisine.

His kitchen management team’s influence can be seen in various aspects of the menu as well, like Davy Bourne’s house-made breads and Autumn Cline and Mikey Fabian’s seafood prowess. When Emilie’s opens, Tien wants to capture the feeling that made Himitsu special.

“A lot of the magic from Himitsu came from everyone working together as a team,” he says. “My biggest hope is that with the staff that we have here, with everyone working together on the menu and the service, we’re able to recreate some of that same magic.”

 Now the sole owner of a popular restaurant on Upshur Street, Steiner has also turned her attention to building a team.

“We are not a chef-driven restaurant,” she says. “We are a team-driven restaurant.”

She tapped chef Amanda Moll and beverage director Lauren Paylor to reopen the restaurant as a new concept: Pom Pom. In just 36 hours, they redesigned the space, adding a forest green accent wall and upholstery as well as an explosion of brightly colored pom poms.

“I hope that we can continue to make that meticulous, beautiful food,” Steiner says. “What we’ve added is a lot more whimsy.”

She says Pom Pom feels like the living room of her home – a joyful, playful space for everyone. Just as Steiner wants her guests to feel at home, she wants her staff to feel safe.

“Most of our staff actually identifies in some way as queer,” she adds. “It’s naturally become a very welcoming space for queer people.”

In the coming months, she plans to offer benefits for staff.

“Safety is probably number one and that, for me, is about protecting my employees. My employees then come back and do an incredible job protecting the guests.”

Part of that is staying true to the team mentality. Instead of championing one individual, Steiner appreciates the value in all her staff.

“What about the service members? What about the cooks? What about the dishwashers? Those are the people making this place run.”

Moll takes that literally by calling everyone chef – a habit she formed long before joining Pom Pom.

“It’s a respect thing,” she explains. “We’re all on the same level. We all are just as important in this restaurant.”

The menus at Pom Pom are similarly collaborative. Steiner, who previously oversaw the beverage program at Himitsu, now has a 50 percent influence over both the food and drink menus along with Moll and Paylor. They’ve designed the offerings so you can enjoy a refined meal to celebrate a milestone, or a burger and a beer after work. Steiner describes the food as international cuisine, or “cuisine nonconforming.”

“I will not put one cuisine on it, because a) I don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves and b) I’m not claiming to cook any classic dish at all whatsoever,” she says. “We are not claiming to do anything except put out food that we like to eat.”

There are Southeast Asian dishes, which reflect Moll’s time as a sous chef at Doi Moi, as well as Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, which is what Steiner likes to cook. Highlights include Moll’s Balinese roast duck, Steiner’s take on hamachi crudo with house-made labneh, za’atar and pomegranate seeds, and their collaborative tahdig – a crispy Peruvian green rice. This is Moll’s first executive chef role, and she has embraced the opportunity to set the tone for kitchen culture.

“I’m excited that I’m able to be in a position where I can help build up other people now, [and] just be able to have a safe environment for people to learn, feel supported, grow and test out different ideas,” Moll says.

With the new concept well underway, Steiner hopes neighbors and visitors will give Pom Pom a chance.

“I’ve always been here,” she says. “The team is amazing and I’m hoping that people are excited to get onboard this f–king happy train, because we’re just here to throw a damn good party every night and we just want you to be a part of it.”

Emilie’s: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; www.emiliesdc.com

Pom Pom: 828 Upshur St. NW, DC;  new website TBD, check www.himitsudc.com in the meantime

Photos: Scott Suchman

Kwame Onwuachi Continues to Cook Life Story

Just a few weeks after national media outlets broke the news that Kwame Onwuachi’s memoir Notes from a Young Black Chef would become the basis for an A24-produced film adaptation starring Lakeith Stanfield, I sat down with the chef at Kith/Kin.

We chatted in a private dining room tucked away in a back corner of his award-winning restaurant, located inside The Wharf’s InterContinental Hotel, on an afternoon in late July. He looked completely at ease as one of DC’s most notable photographers, Scott Suchman, snapped pictures of him sitting in an Eames-esque green leather chair. It was one of the few times I’d seen the chef without his prominent Malcom X hat. But the iconic X was still present, freshly tattooed in black on his left wrist, the same color as his painted nails.

If you haven’t heard of Onwuachi yet, perhaps the most accurate one-line description is: the hottest chef in DC. The 29-year-old is a phoenix, rising from the proverbial ashes after his first restaurant Shaw Bijou quickly shuttered in 2016, to become a New York Times best-selling author, Forbes 30-under-30 honoree, and a RAMMY and James Beard Award winner all in the span of about six months.

“It’s kind of like exploring a new facet of what this restaurant industry has to offer,” Onwuachi elaborated, leaning slightly forward. “When you talk about your story, you never think of yourself as interesting. I mean, there are certain people who view themselves as extremely interesting, but for the average person, you don’t know how someone is going to react to your story. To see how [mine] has been embraced by the world, I couldn’t have imagined it.”

Onwuachi’s story has always held the intrigue of diners and viewers alike, from Shaw Bijou menu items reminiscent of dishes from his childhood like fish pies and Butterfingers to his well-received appearances on Top Chef. It made sense to turn his background into a book: the tale of a young man who was in a gang and sold drugs before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and opening a restaurant in the nation’s capital – all before the age of 30.

The published memoir ends before the story of his successes at Kith/Kin and fast-casual spot Philly Wing Fry reach the pages, but the ongoing narrative has played out in the various 2019 press coverage singing his praises. These accolades have led him to travel the globe – from Mexico to Chicago to Africa – to cook and appear at events and conferences, take calls with Issa Rae, and DM Ava DuVernay. And yet, he’s still perpetually in the kitchen.

“I definitely have days where I feel as if nothing is going right,” Onwuachi said. “Despite all these things happening, I’m still doing something I love. I’m still doing something I believe in. I’m still just cooking. I have this other side of my life now, which is very open, raw [and] vivid, that other people feel very connected to and are inspired by, which is a really cool feeling.”

An Open Book

Onwuachi’s memoir, released this spring, is described as “an intersection of race, fame and food.” The book begins and ends with the chef’s thoughts on his-then most recent project Shaw Bijou: the excitement, jubilation and exhaustion he felt before its opening and the utter disappointment that followed its closing – and the accompanying negative murmurs from the public. However, the chapters in between reveal more than his thoughts on culinary life.

“I don’t think it’s ever easy doing a new thing you’re not familiar with – a new medium. I have been exploring this for awhile, telling my story. But there are certain parts that aren’t glorious, ones you don’t share with people. You tuck it somewhere where you don’t have to talk about it ever again. This book is not for just young chefs. This book is not just for young black chefs. It’s not just for black people. It’s not just for people in the culinary industry. It’s for everyone.”

The writing process forced Onwuachi to divulge details he’d previously hidden. He talked to his family and friends to recreate scenes. He penned detailed accounts of his times as a 10-year-old in Nigeria fetching water and raising livestock, and the days he sold candy to passengers on the subways. Readers connected to these stories. He tells me he gets about five letters per day, often thanking him for being vulnerable. His mother, who ran a catering company while raising him in the Bronx, cried upon first read – and so did he.

“It brought back moments she was trying to forget. My grandmother was finding out things she never knew about me and crying for other reasons. Close family friends that didn’t really know my life story, how I got to where I am – it was eye-opening for them. It was different based on the person. I was crying when I first held the book in my hands. It felt really powerful. There was a weight to it. I didn’t know what the rest of the world would think [of] my story. I’m living it.”

Afro-Caribbean + Cheesesteaks

When Shaw Bijou closed after two short months, Onwuachi took the brunt of the blows. Criticism ranged from the price of the food to his lack of experience. Despite the headlines and hot takes, he said the restaurant worked. If it had more capital to survive the opening stages, he said it would have survived and thrived in DC’s market.

“It was money. That’s why restaurants close. We had plenty of people come to the restaurant. It was just that the investors didn’t have the capital they said they had. They didn’t have enough to get through the tough times, which is the beginning. I didn’t ask the right questions. I was young and excited. I was coming from a line cook position. I was excited to have a new life.”

Ten months later in October 2018, Onwuachi opened Kith/Kin as its executive chef. At first, he attempted to once more use his story as a foundation for his menu. Shortly after, however, he shifted the spotlight. He began to focus on emphasizing a vision built on Afro-Caribbean roots, inspired by his family’s history and an extensive amount of research.

Another impetus for change was his need to grow. When the restaurant was in its infancy, he labored long hours – from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. – overextending himself and his creativity. He suffered a car accident because of exhaustion. Frankly, it wasn’t working.

“I looked in the mirror. There was too much money being spent on labor costs or things the guests didn’t realize. I had to make it less about me and more about the environment and my team. I was so hands-on, and it wasn’t working for anyone. I wasn’t the best version of myself and my food wasn’t the best version of itself. I needed to change so we could grow and become the restaurant I knew we were capable of becoming. I think trying to take from other models just didn’t work. It was tough, because I had to peel back the layers of my own cooking so that it would make sense.”

The restaurant’s high quality has helped land the chef both James Beard and RAMMY Awards this year, as well as other culinary accolades. And Kith/Kin isn’t the only thriving restaurant under his purview either, as Union Market’s Philly Wing Fry quickly became a favorite for locals. The little eatery specializes in the three words forming its title – cheesesteaks, chicken wings and waffle fries – plus other treats like fried Brussels sprouts. As of this summer, it’s even serving up egg-and-cheese sandwiches for breakfast on the weekends.

“I just thought, ‘Why isn’t there a place where I can get a cheesesteak, chicken and waffle fries in one spot?’ so I was like, ‘I’m going to make it.’  We had aged beef from Shaw Bijou, and we needed to [use it]. I think [these are staples] every American knows, and I thought it was a really good idea.”

Taking A Lap

From creative menus to a movie in the making, most of Onwuachi’s recent ideas have proven to be excellent. But if his book and the Shaw Bijou experiment are any indication, life ebbs and flows. When you’re flying highest is when you’re suddenly grounded. Onwuachi acknowledged some pressure in juggling his numerous projects, but he handles it all with a calmness.

“It keeps me going. I think I have a responsibility because I’m out there now. I have to. I felt it when I did Shaw Bijou. That’s why I didn’t want to close so bad. Being some of the first to do things, it’s tough. It’s a double-edged sword. But at the end of the day, I have to make sure I’m setting a great example for the rest of the people that want to do it so when they see me and they look like me, they know they can attain it.”

That’s how he felt when he saw President Obama walk across the stage during his election win in 2008. Though he’s not planning to walk across that stage anytime soon, you can often see Onwuachi taking a walk of his own at Kith/Kin – clad in his chef coat, bouncing from table to table, checking on his guests.

“People are finally able to celebrate their culture while celebrating a special experience. It’s why I do it. When it gets tough, I can take a lap around the dining room and see a rainbow of faces with food in their hands.”

Catch Onwuachi’s interview with Questlove at the Food & Grooves Festival at Union Market’s Dock5 on October 26 or at Miracle Theatre on November 1 with “The Sporkful Podcast.” Follow him on Twitter @chefkwame and on Instagram @chefkwameonwuachi.

Kith/Kin: 801 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.kithandkindc.com

Philly Wing Fry: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.phillywingfry.com

Paul Gonzalez, Lauren Paylor, Deke Dunne // Photos: M.K. Koszycki

Behind the Bar: Honoring the Past and Future of Black Bartenders at Allegory

How do you honor a legacy that has all but been forgotten by a collective consciousness? It’s an almost impossible question, but the team at Allegory – Eaton Workshop’s literary-themed cocktail bar – is answering it in a way that’s interactive, educational and engaging.

Presented in conjunction with multidisciplinary artist Khalil Joseph’s “BLKNWS” exhibit, which opened at Eaton last month and runs through December, Allegory’s head bartender Paul Gonzalez and his team set out to commemorate the legacy of black bartenders who paved the way for the beverage industry.

To do this, the Allegory team called upon prominent black bartenders in the community to craft and submit drinks of their choosing to this special menu. They’ve also included drinks made by bartenders of yesteryear who previously have not received the acclaim owed to them – pioneers like Cato Alexander and John Dabney, to name a few, make appearances.

One such modern bartender making a contribution to the menu is Lauren Paylor, bar director at cocktail bar Dos Mamis and beverage director at restaurant Pom Pom, both newly opened in Petworth. Though the Bronx native came to DC to study nursing at the Catholic University of America, she was quickly embraced by the city’s tightknit and talented hospitality world where she found a community to grow and create with.

When Allegory manager and bartender Deke Dunne and Gonzalez approached her to be part of this experience that she describes as a transition and continuation of the “BLKNWS” exhibit, she was all in. Paylor contributed a drink called the Loco Bananas: a sweet, smoky, banana-infused whiskey and rum-based cocktail.

Loco Bananas

“Seeing this turn in the DC community specifically with celebrating all aspects of history as far as cocktails are concerned is really nice,” Paylor says. “There are so many pieces that are often left out. They’re pertinent, they’re important and they have great significance. I was head over heels to be able to be part of this.”

Gonzalez explains that while his time at other bars in historic stretches of DC piqued his curiosity and appreciation for untold sides of the city’s hospitality history, “BLKNWS” provided Allegory with a platform to dive even deeper and make these bartenders’ stories heard and appreciated in tandem with the impactful message of the art.

“Deke and I used to work at The Gibson, and we thought it was fascinating how 14th and U is such a historic corner,” Gonzalez says. “Most of the people who live in the city now or that just go up and down that block know nothing about Black Broadway or all these amazing clubs. There’s a rich history that’s on that one strip from 7th to 14th Streets [in the U Street Corridor]. We took that as the starting point and started doing a little more research.”

To capture the history of black bartenders in the city, Gonzalez and Dunne dove in and found fascinating and necessary stories of entrepreneurs who did much more than just make a great cocktail in an era where the world was outwardly aiming to oppress them.

“The further we researched, the more we dug into finding all of these historic bartenders, and the greater the story [became],” Gonzalez continues. “These people literally started off as slaves and then by the time it was done, they weren’t just free. They owned businesses. One of them put his son through medical school. These are just stories that people need to know. You don’t call yourself a professional if you only care about the pretty side of history.”

The team found that some of the most important voices in this era were often excluded. Dunne notes that they are lucky to know the limited information that was available to them through their research.

“Cato Alexander was one of the forefathers of the cocktail scene back in the 1830s, and there’s little to nothing [available] about him,” Dunne says. “There are all these famous characters that were some of the best bartenders in the world that were black and had vertical growth in society, and nobody was talking about them.”

Alexander is just one of the talents the Allegory team sheds light on. As a modern black bartender, Paylor is happy to have the opportunity to make history known to those who come through to enjoy the menu.

“There is so much I’m learning now about the significance of black people and people of color in history – specifically in DC – and the broader spectrum of America,” she says. “There’s still so much we don’t know and there’s a little frustration that comes with that, but we’re doing our part to ensure that moving forward, we can continue the conversation and hope that this history doesn’t repeat itself. All people deserve to be celebrated for the impact that they’ve made on this industry, whether it was past or present.”

Experience “BLKNWS” and Allegory’s accompanying cocktail menu through the end of December.

For more on Lauren Paylor and Dos Mamis, visit www.dosmamisdc.com and follow her on Instagram @lpdrinksdc. Learn more about Allegory at www.allegory-dc.com.

Allegory at Eaton Workshop: 1201 K St. NW, DC; www.allegory-dc.com

Photo: courtesy of Puddin’

A Day in the Life with Puddin’ Food Truck Owner Toyin Alli

Toyin Alli, founder of DC’s beloved soul food staple Puddin’, knows what people like: great ingredients, comforting flavors and a second to experience bliss in the middle of a busy day. Cooking is a thread that runs through her entire life, first as a way to bond with family, then as a hobby and ultimately as a calling. DMV residents gravitate toward Alli’s warmth and the sense of fun she brings to food. With two food trucks, a Union Market stall and a spot at Eastern Market’s Saturday farmers market, Puddin’s growth has tracked right alongside the District’s food truck scene. We caught up with her to learn more about where she’s been and where she’s headed next.

On Tap: What drew you to cooking?
Toyin Alli: I come from a family of people who love cooking. My dad is Nigerian and my mom is African American, so they’re always trying to merge those two things in the kitchen. I gravitated toward Cajun and Creole food because they have the influence of West African cuisines, French, Native Americans – it feels like the most American food there is. I ended up using a lot of West African ingredients and when I went to Louisiana [to research], I saw so much stuff that my dad was using, like okra. It felt like food that was very familiar to me.

OT: How did Puddin’ come to be? How did you pick the name?
TA: I started in 2005 just doing all different kinds of puddings – bread pudding, mousse, panna cotta – literally any kind of pudding I could think of. But it didn’t really take. People just started calling me Puddin’ and it stuck. It’s also a common Southern nickname. People come up to the truck all the time and say, “That’s MY nickname!” I started again after I graduated from grad school [in 2010]: gumbo, shrimp and grits, banana pudding. This wasn’t an overly thought-out business idea. It came from a love of cooking and it was a thing I did on the weekend. I was working a full-time job and I was rushing around getting ingredients. I quit my job about six months after I started the business. It was scary, but it ended up paying off. I was able to incrementally build my business by starting in the Eastern Market farmers market.

OT: Now you’re at Eastern Market and in Union Market, and you’ve got the food truck. How does your clientele differ at each location?
TA: We have die-hard Eastern Market people who come every weekend for our po’boys because I put a twist on it. It’s still traditional with big fried shrimp, but we put our remoulade and a vinegar-based slaw on them. We use local Rappahannock oysters and wild blue catfish, which is different too. They’re an invasive species and they’re not bottom feeders so they don’t have that muddy taste, plus getting them out of the water helps the ecosystem. Union Market is changing. We have people who come because they support me as a black-owned, female-owned business. The new market people are trendy millennials, tourists – and they’re having a different experience. It’s all cool. It’s all great.

OT: What’s your bestseller? Why do you think that is?
TA: The bread pudding is always a hit. It’s an old-timey dessert you either love or hate. What’s fun for me is taking one of those old-school desserts and turning it into something people really enjoy. Getting people to try it is a challenge. “That’s wet bread! Who wants wet bread? I don’t!” But ours is no nuts, no raisins, no cinnamon, and who doesn’t love butter and bread with sugar and bourbon? Rather than try to overcomplicate it, I made something simple – and people love it.

OT: What does comfort food mean to you?
TA: When I think of comfort food, I think of anything that makes my body tingle [while I’m eating it]. It’s so good, I’d rather be doing that than any number of things that also make me feel good. Comfort food to me is, you need this not only for nourishment, but to feed your soul. I know you can’t indulge every day, but sometimes you just need some fried shrimp, you need some gumbo. Ultimately, if it feels like home.

OT: What’s next for Puddin’?
TA: I’m working on Puddin’s Community Kitchen. We’re hoping to open in November. I purchased warehouse space in Capitol Heights, Maryland, right outside DC. It’ll be an incubator space and a commercial kitchen, but also a community space for cooking classes and whatever else the community needs. I’m trying to create a space that can be used to fill that gap. Additionally, there’s going to be a carry-out space so people in that community can buy Puddin’ food without coming into the city.

 Learn more about Puddin’ and where to find Alli’s food trucks at www.dcpuddin.com or on Instagram @dcpuddin.

Monday through Sunday at Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com

Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Eastern Market: 635 North Caroline Ave. SE, DC; www.easternmarket-dc.org

Photo: Vincent Calmel

Dr. Jane Goodall Takes Action on The Anthem Stage

This past week’s events, the cries and protests to raise awareness concerning the impacts of global warming were not extraordinary to Dr. Jane Goodall, who has spent the past 60 years as a scientist and activist. 

First famous for her observational studies of chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park, Dr. Goodall has established an unrivaled legacy of science, conservation and outreach. With her field notes full and her research center and program running smoothly, Dr. Goodall now spends 300 days per year traveling around the world to implore humans to engage in real change – with the hope that they are listening. This week’s two sold-out events at The Anthem would imply that perhaps they are.

“I’m trying to tell people what’s happening in the world and the mess that we’ve made, and the fact that unless we all get together and take action soon then it may be too late. The window of time is closing and it’s not enough just to wave placards, but we must take action,” Dr. Goodall said before speaking to the audience at The Anthem. 

Soon thereafter, she took the stage, her slight frame enveloped by a bright shawl in the pattern of a monarch butterfly and a pendant in the shape of Africa dangling from her neck. Her demeanor was calm, presence almost spiritual, but her determination was fierce, and urgent. She greeted the audience with a pant-hoot hello learned from her chimpanzee friends, then spent the next hour and a half simply talking to us, as if we mattered. As if anyone could, and should, do what she does. Teach by doing. Lead by example. 

“There are some world leaders who are so caught up in feathering their own nests and pandering to big business, and they’re pandering to shareholders, and so we’re caught up in a vicious cycle of corruption and materialistic distance from the natural world, of not understanding the natural world. So the only way to get to anybody isn’t by shouting at them, isn’t by getting angry, it’s by somehow finding a way to reach the heart,” Goodall said. 

Goodall found a way to reach the hearts of many by showing the world that chimpanzees, humans’ closest living relatives, have distinct personalities, just like people do. But staying hopeful is hard. Despite understanding the impacts our actions have on the planet, other species and ourselves, mass destruction and devastation continue. Goodall points to two things that have given her hope in more recent years – engagement from communities directly impacted by climate change, and children. 

“The program that we began at Gombe by working with the local people, and getting them involved [is a source of hope].” Goodall says. “We are restoring or protecting forests with local people now in six other African countries… And the reason it’s working is because people are beginning to understand that it is for their own future, too.” 

Through the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots program the youth are empowered to effect positive change by developing projects that help people, animals and the shared environment. Roots & Shoots gives the support, resources, tools and training for young people sponsoring projects with direct action, proving that individual actions really do matter.

While Dr. Jane Goodall is a household name, she was once just a young woman with a desire to learn about animals. How did she become the icon she is today?

“I don’t think it’s that difficult if you know exactly what you want to do and you go ahead and do it and you have the facts to back it up. There’s a growing number of women who are doing things that were never done before. And those who succeed to me seem to be the ones who are really passionate about what they do. They’re not aggressive. They’re just gentle about it and prove by their actions and what they’ve done that they can do it. Don’t accept me because I’m a woman, accept me because of what I’ve done, the value of what I’ve done.”

Dr. Goodall’s legacy will be celebrated with an exhibition at the National Geographic Museum in partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute, opening November 22, 2019. The exhibition, “Becoming Jane,” will lead visitors through an intimate glimpse into the life of Jane Goodall. Highlights of the exhibition will include a replica of Dr. Goodall’s research tent, a hologram of Dr. Goodall herself, a virtual-3D exploration of Gombe Stream National Park, opportunities to practice chimpanzee vocalizations. And of course, presiding over the exhibition will be Jubilee, Dr. Goodall’s famed childhood stuffed animal chimpanzee, gifted to her in 1942. 

For more information about Dr. Jane Goodall, click here.

Photo: My Bella Images LLC

HERImpact Helps Women Entrepreneurs Crack Glass Ceiling

DC Startup Week 2019 revealed a different side of the District. Though it could be argued that a once promising startup culture bubbled and fizzed in DC over the past ten years, it appears our capital city has not abandoned innovation after all. Last week, it was on full display. Instead of playing host to pundits and politicos, venues from across the city turned into networking hubs for up and coming idea men – and women. 

On Wednesday, September 11, 10 female finalists, selected from more than 170 applicants in the HERImpact DC Pitch Competition, took to the stage at Eaton DC to make their case for support in five minutes or less. HERImpact, a joint initiative between the Ford Motor Company Fund and 1863 Ventures, focuses on a special subset of women-owned and run business ventures, driven by a mission to do social good. 

“We believe that investments in women have a multiplying effect. When you invest in a woman’s future, the benefits of that investment extend beyond her, to her children, family and community around her. Through HERImpact we are helping women social entrepreneurs use business for good so that they can change the world,” says Yisel Cabrera, Ford Motor Company Fund Community Relations Manager. 

Together with 1863 Ventures, Cabrera and the team at Ford reviewed applications for the pitch competition, narrowing the field to five “early stage” and five “growth stage” enterprises that seek to solve real community problems, have sustainable business models and focus on products or services people will pay for – all of whom were invited to make their sale during startup week.

The event space at Eaton DC was overflowing with audience members representing a range of interests  potential investors, supporters and fellow entrepreneur hopefuls taking notes and cheering on the finalists. Among the diverse set of ventures were financial education services for youth, healthy food access opportunities and a digital community organizing app. However, three winners struck the judges and the audience as above the rest. Growth-stage entrant Stephanie Cummings, founder of Please Assist Me, received the First Place award of $25,000, with her company that enables customers to achieve a work-life balance needed for a successful career. 

“The competition really validated the number of people that were overwhelmed by household management,” Cummings says. “I was overwhelmed by the number of people of all genders and ages who approached me after the competition to let me know how my story resonated with them. It further ignited my passion to continue to grow Please Assist Me to bring work-life balance to everyone.”

Dafero’s founder Lina Zdruli says that her $20,000 Second Place award is groundbreaking for her business. 

We now have the exact funds needed to buy the equipment and materials to ensure we can launch our new product before the start of the holiday season, which is when we take in about 65 percent of our yearly sales,” Zdruli says, whose company is grounded in providing no-sugar (but plenty of flavor!) dessert options.

And without a doubt, LaQuida Chancey (an early-stage participant) earned her $5,000 Audience Choice award. Her pitch for Smalltimore Homes was an energetic, inspiring appeal to help end homelessness.

“I learned the significance of and how to articulate my unique value proposition,” Chancey says. “Today in business, any entity should be able to clearly state their benefit, how they are solving needs of their target audience and what distinguishes them apart from everyone else.”

Women have been banging on the glass ceiling of business for a while now, and the cracks are starting to show. Thanks to programs like the HERImpact Pitch Competition, opportunities for female entrepreneurs are a little less out of reach and, unsurprisingly, the women seizing those opportunities are doing so while lifting others up along the way. 

To learn more about the HERImpact DC Pitch Competition and the winners from the event, click here.