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Photo: M.K. Koszycki
Photo: M.K. Koszycki

DMV Black Restaurant Week Highlights Local, Black-Owned Businesses

From November 4 through 11, Washingtonians will be able to enjoy good eats and empowering signature events poised to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion in the restaurant industry. The inaugural DMV Black Restaurant Week will highlight black-owned restaurateurs, chefs and caterers in the region, with 20-plus locations serving discounted deals or prix fixe menus for $25 or less.

“We want to be able to create a platform,” says cofounder Erinn Tucker, who describes the new restaurant week as locally grown but globally aware. “We want to use this opportunity to really give back.”

Tucker, a Georgetown University professor for the Master’s in Global Hospitality Leadership program, is one of three restaurant/hospitality veterans behind the already well-received and well-publicized event. She’s joined by Andra “AJ” Johnson, who is in the process of publishing White Plates, Black Faces, a book that puts a spotlight on black culinary talent and addresses cultural neglect in the industry. Third cofounder Furard Tate worked as the chef for H Street-based Inspire BBQ before it closed and is now getting ready to open Brookland’s Love Market, a business designed to train those between the ages of 19 and 25 in a fast-casual restaurant setting.

“I’ve watched this city change and have been a part of it as a business owner as well as a resident,” Tate says. “I know this city, so this is something that we have been collectively working on for awhile. We want to educate the community [on how to] support these restaurants, because a lot of them are closing. An educated consumer is a much better consumer.”

Po Boy Jim’s Jeff Miskiri says he’s hopeful the restaurant week will be advantageous for newer establishments participating in the event, including his five-year-old Cajun restaurant on H Street.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “It’s not just about me. It’s about everyone coming together as a whole.”

DC icon Ben’s Chili Bowl is also participating, and cofounder Virginia Ali says it’s spectacular that the District has so many restaurants representative of various cultures across the globe.

“DMV Black Restaurant Week is something new and exciting for Washingtonians to come and enjoy, and hopefully it’s going to grow over the years,” she says.

The restaurant week’s three signature events include a kickoff networking opportunity on November 4 at the Union Oyster Bar and Lounge near Union Market, the R. R. Bowie Bartender Club competition on November 5 at Service Bar in Shaw, and the Business of Food and Beverage Education Conference on November 10 at the University of the District of Columbia.

Conference panels will range from “Workplace Culture: Rethinking the Workplace” to “Miseducation of the Black Diner,” including discussions on important topics like employee safety, tipping, stereotypes of the black diner, and treatment of the black server.

The theme of the bartending competition is “Black History Makers of the DMV,” and contestants will pay tribute to the DC area through their cocktails.

Participating restaurants will not only be able to enjoy continued support from the community, but also from their peers like the Restaurant Association of Maryland and National Restaurant Association.

“We’re not just letting people [try] the food,” Tate says. “We’re also helping these restaurants sustain themselves [through] our allied relationships and partnerships.”

Plans are also in the works for quarterly programming to further bolster the local restaurant community, according to Tucker.

“In five years, we really see this as an initiative [that becomes] a signature event for the globe,” she says. “We are a global city. We are a global environment. People will be traveling in for this particular event.”

The full roster of restaurants, bars and other spots participating in this year’s DMV Black Restaurant Week has not yet been announced but check www.dmvbrw.com for updates. Follow the event on Twitter and Instagram @dmvbrw.

Note: DMV Black Restaurant Week is in no way affiliated with Black Restaurant Week, LLC, which plans on expanding to the District in 2019. The event is also not the first of its kind in the area. In 2015, a Black Restaurant Week was organized by ABlackLife LLC and New York-based I DON’T CLUBS brought Black-Owned Restaurant Month to DC.

Photo: Doug Van Sant
Photo: Doug Van Sant

Homegrown Festival All Things Go Highlights DC Music Scene

Zack Friendly has been committed to advancing DC’s music scene for more than a decade. Determined to share his taste and talent for spotting artists on the verge of making it big, he did what everyone within his niche did in the mid-2000s: ran a blog. What started out as an online side project would eventually become the All Things Go Fall Classic, a fast-growing music festival in the District.

This year’s festival will be held at Union Market on October 6-7, with an all-female lineup the first day. All Things Go is focused on highlighting as much female talent as possible to help combat the myth that female festival headliners are economically lesser than their male counterparts, and the statistic that only 14 percent of headliners are women, according to a 2017 Pitchfork study.

Headliners Maggie Rogers and Lizzy Plapinger, formerly of the band MS MR but currently performing as LPX, collaborated with the festival’s founders to help curate the performer lineup. Artists like Ravyn Lenae, OSHUN, Billie Eilish and Jessie Reyez are a few of the kickass women they’ll share the stage with, but the female-powered partnerships don’t end there.

Rogers and Plapinger – along with other women in the music lineup and prominent women in the DC food and distilling communities – will speak on free-with-RSVP Women X Music and Women X Entrepreneurship panels at the new Eaton Hotel on October 5 to kickstart the festival weekend. The event is also partnering with the Women’s March to register festivalgoers to vote in their Power to the Polls initiative.

Friendly and his fellow founders (Will Suter, Adrian Maseda and Stephen Vallimarescu) chose Union Market as this year’s festival host, a spot brimming with local food vendors, brewers, artists and other DC-based businesses highlighting the District’s cultural contributions. The NoMa locale has morphed from a large wholesale area to a bustling metropolis of cuisine and distilling, with a “block party” vibe that Friendly is particularly excited about.

His blog-turned-festival got its start in 2006, when he and Maseda were searching for a way to share their musical preferences with the world.

“It was when music blogs were the source of new music, rather than Spotify or Tidal,” Friendly says.

As streaming services proliferated, they pivoted to stay relevant. Rather than sharing music directly, they began curating playlists, using the platforms to promote their discoveries. From 2009 to 2010, Friendly took one step closer to launching the festival by setting up a series of live music components with the help of publicists, labels, managers and agents. They hosted shows at venues like U Street Music Hall, 9:30 Club and SXSW, as well as other pop-ups around DC.

The inevitable transition from smaller events to a larger-scale festival was a “natural progression.” The group launched the first All Things Go in 2014 to spotlight emerging artists from the DMV and beyond. It’s extremely important to the founders to provide a homegrown spirit to the festival.

“We grew up going to music festivals, like the DC101 Chili Cook-Off and HFStival,” Friendly says. “[We’re] trying to bring some of what Lollapalooza brings to Chicago or Austin City Limits brings to Austin. We wanted to highlight DC. It’s a real destination for music.”

Friendly adds that the DC music scene has been alive and well for a long time, citing the city’s contributions to the punk scene and the birthplace of go-go music. With that in mind, the All Things Go founders always pay close attention to musicians cutting their teeth in the area. Among this year’s local acts are FootsXColes, Cautious Clay – a Brooklyn transplant who moved here to attend George Washington University – and the now New York-based OSHUN.

But highlighting DC as a music destination goes beyond drawing in famous performers for the festival. As All Things Go continues to grow with innovation and inclusion, Friendly knows there will always be room for improvement.

“We always joke that the first year we made 100 mistakes, and we fixed 90 of them and created 20. There’s just a constant back-and-forth. What’s been great for us is trying to find our way to get it perfect. We’re not there yet, but I just love seeing these fans buy tickets on the first day who I recognize and who were there [from] day one. Slowly seeing the audience build organically and [hearing] people say ‘Hey, I don’t know who [this artist] is, but I trust you guys.’  That feeling is why we do this.”

Don’t miss the 2018 All Things Go Fall Classic from Saturday, October 6 to Sunday, October 7 at Union Market. Tickets start at $65 and can be purchased at www.allthingsgofallclassic.com.

Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; 888-512-7469; www.allthingsgofallclassic.com

Photo: Courtesy of Patton Oswalt
Photo: Courtesy of Patton Oswalt

NoVA Native Patton Oswalt Set For Kennedy Center Debut

Patton Oswalt can be described as something of a Renaissance man in entertainment. He’s found success as an author (both books and graphic novels), actor (in films and on TV), voice-over artist (video games, animation and TV) and on the comedy circuit.

The latter is where his true passion lies, as the comedian explains that everything he does is geared toward allowing him to continue doing comedy live in front of an audience.

“Acting in TV and film is just a way for me to increase my exposure and get the chance to do more stand-up,” Oswalt says. “I love the creativity of the business. It’s a happier life for me to live creatively, and it’s something I am always going to do.”

Raised in Sterling, Virginia, Oswalt attended the College of William & Mary where he majored in English. The idea to try comedy as a career came sometime between his freshman and sophomore year, and once the bug hit, he never looked back.

“It wasn’t my game plan when I started, but it developed organically and by senior year, it was all I wanted to do,” he says. “Back then, DC was a fun scene, but it was much more predicated on who was making more money and who was famous. Creativity didn’t really come first. It was more about status.”

Looking for bigger things, Oswalt packed his bags and started making a name for himself in San Francisco on its rising comedy circuit. From there, he headed to Los Angeles and hit the big time.

“The circuit in San Francisco was amazing – it was the opposite of DC. It was more about who was doing original stuff. Then I went to Los Angeles and there were different scenes within the scenes, which was fascinating to me.”

Since 2003, Oswalt has appeared on seven TV comedy specials and released eight critically acclaimed albums, with his 2016 Talking for Clapping recording earning him a Grammy.

On July 21, the comedian will play two shows at the Kennedy Center as part of the District of Comedy Festival, making his debut in the historic theater. Although he has memories of seeing comedy legend Gallagher and old film noir movies at the Kennedy Center when he was younger, he never dreamed that he would one day perform there.

“It feels good to be back in the area,” he says. “It’s a little surreal as I started doing comedy in DC in 1988. It’s going to be fun to be back in my neighborhood. At the time, my dreams weren’t big enough to think about playing at the Kennedy Center. I was only looking to get a solid 10 minutes.”

Oswalt is planning all-new material for the night, working on some of what he expects to be part of his next TV special. But don’t ask him for specifics, as he warns, “You should never ask a comedian what he’s going to talk about!”

His one hint is that his fans can expect some strong truths about what he’s seeing in the world.

“Being onstage in front of a crowd is just a great adrenaline rush. I love how everything I say came from nothing but now it’s a living thing outside of myself, living creatively. There’s nothing in the world like it.”

Although many people know him from his first TV guest appearance – Seinfeld’s classic “The Couch” episode – his biggest claim to fame early in his career was playing Spence on the Kevin James CBS comedy The King of Queens.

“One of the co-creators of [The King of Queens] was watching an HBO special of mine, and just saw me as Spence. I felt very lucky to get that part.”

Oswalt will soon be headed back to California to begin work on two network TV shows he’s a part of. He currently stars as Principal Ralph Durbin on NBC’s comedy AP Bio, which was recently picked up for a second season, and he’ll enter his sixth season as the narrator for ABC’s The Goldbergs in the fall.

“Michael O’Brien created AP Bio, and his stuff is just on the outer rim of absurdity. The fact he gets to do it in the format of a sitcom is amazing, and I’m so lucky that I get to be a part of it. For The Goldbergs, I pop in about once a week and it’s really fun. It uses nostalgia as a Trojan horse into general emotion and empathy, and that’s what I really love about the show.”

Before his TV shows pick back up, catch him live when he headlines Kennedy Center’s District of Comedy Festival on Saturday, July 21. Shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m., tickets start at $49. Purchase tickets at www.kennedy-center.org and learn more about the comedian at www.pattonoswalt.com.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:
2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Chris Thomas
Photo: Chris Thomas

An Art Lover’s Oasis: NOVA Fine Arts Festival

A treasure trove of unique artifacts and unexplored creations awaits each visitor at the annual Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival at Reston Town Center this spring. From May 18-20, visitors can connect with over 200 artists and experience the beauty of handmade wares while simultaneously supporting the festival host, Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE).

Bring $5 as a donation to GRACE and receive a 52-page booklet including information on all participating artists and coupons for Reston Town Center restaurants, retailers and businesses. Festival director and GRACE’s associate curator, Erica Harrison, says many new and exciting changes are coming to the festival this year, including an entire extra day to explore.

By adding Friday to the schedule, Harrison hopes more people will be able to come out to the festival and the artists will have more time to showcase their work. In addition, the 2018 Awards of Excellence ceremony, which honors the best artists of the festival selected by a three-judge panel, is moving to Saturday night during the festival party.

GRACE supporters and contributing artists will mingle, drink and be merry at the party as they celebrate and discuss this year’s works of art. Harrison says the best part about the night will be a live performance from Baltimore-based artist Laure Drogoul.

“I think what’s really interesting about this year is that it’s a party for our sponsors and supporters, but we’re also trying to do this whole new creative performance art,” Harrison says. “Laure has a giant sculpture called the ‘Illuminated Fountain of Extinction,’ and it highlights a lot of the animals and species that have already or are in the process of going extinct, and I’m super excited about it.”

Although the party is by invitation only, you can sign up as a GRACE contributing supporter on their website to get the invite. Festivalgoers who are more interested in daytime activities can look forward to perusing a variety of handcrafted, supremely unique works of art including furniture, jewelry, ceramics, glasswork, paintings, house wares and much more.

To artists like Christina Boy, a German-American residing in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Madison, Virginia, the festival is a great way to connect with fellow artisans and reach out to potential clients.

“Everyone has their own artistic voice, and I believe that free events such as [this festival] are important for people to be exposed to a variety of different and unique work,” says Boy, who specializes in furniture design. “In a world that is becoming more and more homogenized, festivals like this keep it fresh and different, and help individuals find their own style instead of going for the mainstream.”

This is Boy’s second time participating in the festival, and she’s looking forward to displaying her handcrafted furniture including her signature piece, “Stool 33,” as well as benches, barstools with Danish cord seats, fun side tables and more – all designed with the spirit of spring in mind.

“Shows are a great way for people to see my work in person, as I believe it is crucial with furniture for them to be able to sit and touch the actual items,” she says.

The festival also serves as GRACE’s largest fundraiser of the year, providing the arts center with over half of its annual budget of $500,000 so that it may continue opening exhibits and offering programs at no cost to locals.

“We’re trying to bring more attention to the mission of the gallery by encouraging participation and making sure everything is accessible to the whole community, regardless of income,” Harrison says. “It’s really helpful to have the festival as a starting point; hopefully, people will come back and check out GRACE’s other programs and exhibitions.”

The festival is still going strong in its 27th year, and thanks to Harrison and her team, it’s growing even stronger. She looks forward to the festival’s bright future and many improvements over the next several years so that GRACE may continue to support artists and encourage artistic engagement in an even greater way.

“What I really hope people get out of the festival is that they make a connection – either with a specific artist or by responding to a piece of work that attracts them and becomes special to them. That’s something that you can’t really do with anything but art.”

The Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival runs Friday, May 18 to Sunday, May 20 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. The festival party on Saturday, May 19 runs from 7-10 p.m. and is invite only. For more information about the festival’s participating artists and details on how to receive a party invite, visit www.restonarts.org/fineartsfestival.

Reston Town Center: 11900 Market St. Reston, VA; 703-471-9242; www.restonarts.org/fineartsfestival