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Photo: Trent Johnson

DC’s Director of Nightlife and Culture Reflects on First Year

To embark on any new endeavor – creative, personal or professional – can be a daunting hill to climb for anyone, and DC government is no exception. Even with the support of Mayor Muriel Bowser and others, Shawn Townsend, who became the first-ever director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture (MONC) early this year, has a lot on his plate.

His energy and excitement to be first in this role is apparent as is his mission: to make nightlife accessible to everyone. In addition to helping shape the position for the first time in the District’s history, Townsend’s tenure has been greeted with skepticism of which he’s well-aware.

After a four-year stint at DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (also known as ABRA), he knew he could offer a unique perspective and wealth of experience to the city, but worried constituents would see him as another enforcer of the law. However, some of the public’s concerns were born from a simple misunderstanding of Townsend’s role.

“Critics will say, ‘He comes from enforcement, so he’s going to be looking to write folks up and get people in trouble,’” he says. “But we don’t have any regulatory authority or enforcement authority. We’re simply here to connect the dots between stakeholders, businesses, residents and agencies. All of that helps make nightlife better.”

Townsend’s role involves more listening and creative conflict resolution than anything else. He says his team hit the ground running on a wide array of issues since Mayor Bowser appointed him to the new position in November 2018, and they’ve resolved 98 percent of the 63 issues under their purview.

He notes that one of his proudest moments so far involved helping a local music venue apply for a grant to receive funds for better noise abatement technology after receiving constant complaints. With a MONC letter of support and a grant application through the DC Department of Small & Local Business Development, the venue was able to make the necessary improvements to mitigate the noise and continue business. According to Townsend, it’s evidence that slowly but surely, he and his team are seeing the fruits of their labor.

“The idea is to have someone on the government side serve as a liaison to the nightlife economy – to really put an emphasis on changing the dialogue from the city government thinking about life in the daytime to thinking about [and] allocating more resources to our life at night, because the cities have generated so much revenue from [it]. It’s a catalyst for revenue and a catalyst for jobs, [and] for social inclusion [and] cultural diversity.”

While this misunderstood territory is uncharted for DC, it’s not for other cities. They look to, and follow, the best practices of other locations with similar roles. Still, the District’s unique music history – Black Broadway, renowned venues, and iconic genres like go-go and hardcore, to name a few standouts – makes it a different beast to tackle altogether from a bureaucratic standpoint.

With the added elements of nightlife safety and respecting the city’s creative legacies, Townsend must take into account the many intersections that exist within what happens on DC streets when the sun goes down.

“When it comes to the culture piece, we’ve sat down with festival organizers,” he continues. “We’ve discussed the #Don’tMuteDC movement with artists and creatives. We have some artists and folks in the performing arts and creative industries on our nightlife and culture commission. So [we are] really having those conversations to figure out what the agenda is of the creatives, and how we can help push that agenda forward to other agencies and to the Mayor and say, ‘This is what we’re hearing on the ground.’”

And while Townsend is quick to say he’s a fan of all nightlife in DC, he’s certainly taken office during a time both challenging and exciting to be at the helm of such a project. When asked about any standout moments that reflect how DC nightlife is changing, he mentions the poignancy of watching the Washington Mystics take home the WNBA championship trophy last month.

“[At the] Entertainment and Sports Arena, standing there and seeing the clock wind down to a sold-out crowd and [the Mystics] bringing a championship trophy to Southeast was an experience for me,” he recalls. “I’ve been in the region since the early 90s, and I remember what that area used to be.”

He says it touched him to see Monumental Sports and the Leonsis Family collaborate with local government and Events DC to help boost the economy in that quadrant of the nation’s capital.

“It’s an example of us investing in parts of the city that don’t necessarily have nightlife amenities, including sports. I look forward to the expansion of the St. Elizabeths campus to have more nightlife.”

The office has made great strides, and Townsend and his team hope to continue bridging creative and commercial gaps for years to come.

For more on MONC, visit www.moca.dc.gov and follow the office on social media @DCMONC.

Photo: Michael Nichols

Becoming Jane: Nat Geo Shows the World Through Goodall’s Eyes, Ends With Call to Action

National Geographic Explorers – scientists, conservationists, educators and storytellers – have been responsible for unearthing and communicating some of the world’s greatest discoveries for more than 130 years. Among the most famous and beloved of these explorers is Jane Goodall, whose legacy is close to unrivaled when it comes to both scientific discovery and ongoing activism.

This year, while the 85-year-old Goodall continues to travel the world urging people to join the conservation movement, the National Geographic Society is partnering with the Jane Goodall Institute to honor her legacy and provide public engagement opportunities that align with Goodall’s mission.

“Becoming Jane,” which tells the story of the primatologist’s early years as an explorer, opens at the National Geographic Museum on November 22. The immersive exhibition will remain installed for 10 months before touring up to five additional cities around the country and then going international.

“Jane is such a beautiful example of a scientist who has made great contributions to knowledge, but is also so inspirational and impactful,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of public experiences for the National Geographic Society and executive director of the National Geographic Museum. “She is really in some ways the perfect example of a National Geographic Explorer.”

Many people are familiar with Goodall’s work once she established herself as a primatologist and champion of chimpanzees. But Keane said for this exhibit, it was important to chronicle the whole journey from girlhood, animal-loving Goodall to the world-class researcher who changed our understanding of our closest living relatives to the activist she is today.

Visitors will enter the exhibit to a short overview film, then move through Goodall’s war-torn childhood and her 20s, when she wanted to move to Africa.

“For a 20-year-old woman in the late 1950s to be thinking about that was a radical idea – particularly a woman who didn’t have money or a lot of education,” Keane noted.

Items and images from the Jane Goodall Institute archives that have never been featured in films or books about Goodall will be on display. There will be a replica of the research tent complete with cots that Goodall spent her first intrepid months in – shared with her mother, who chaperoned the burgeoning scientist’s first expedition.

From there, visitors can interact with a hologram of Goodall before entering a 270-degree, 3-D immersive theater that will take them on a journey through Tanzania’s Gombe National Park. Entries from her journal reveal the story of her discovery of animal intelligence in real time. And of course, no Goodall exhibit would be complete without an opportunity to practice chimpanzee vocalizations.

“The following section is a bit darker,” Keane elaborated. “It brings us through the time when Jane realizes the world – and chimps – are in trouble. There is tension between what humans need and what animals need, and a big part of the mission at National Geographic is about finding ways to [reconcile this].”

Goodall made a stop in the District this September and spoke with urgency to two sold-out audiences at The Anthem.

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

Fittingly, “Becoming Jane” ends with a call to action and pledge station. Keane says that this is an integral part of the exhibit because National Geographic’s goal is for people to come away from the experience not feeling overwhelmed by crisis, but rather empowered and encouraged to follow in Goodall’s footsteps.

When the primatologist spoke to DC audiences this fall, she humbly reinforced the power of teaching by doing and leading by example.

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

She also spoke to the simple path she took in her career: she was once just a young woman with a desire to learn about animals who became an icon by vehemently following her passion.

“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,” Goodall told the audience. “There’s a growing number of women who are doing things that were never done before, and those who succeed 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 the value of what I’ve done.”

But perhaps the most encouraging thing about Goodall is her capacity for hope. When asked how she maintains that hope in the face of all she has seen, she pointed to the individuals and communities who have taken their own personal pledges seriously – altering their own actions and taking advantage of programs and projects like those Goodall now sponsors to make broader impact.

The National Geographic exhibition will be augmented by educational programming, including dissemination of a weeklong science and conservation-oriented curriculum for teachers who are then invited to bring their students to the museum.

“One of our goals is to inspire the next Jane Goodall, to get people to understand these are fields that people can actually go into and we want to give kids an idea of the kind of careers that are possible,” Keane said. “That’s the kind of grassroots, viral approach to conservation that is ultimately going to work best.”

“Becoming Jane” opens at the National Geographic Museum on November 22. Tickets are $15. Learn more about the exhibit at www.nationalgeographic.org/events and the Jane Goodall Institute at www.janegoodall.org.

National Geographic Museum: 1145 17th St. NW, DC; 202-857-7700; www.nationalgeographic.org/events

Guests interact with the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival on Opening Night in Washington DC on October 18, 2019. // Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

29Rooms Opens Doors To New Experience in DC

“The sacrifices we make for art.” 

This is what I muttered to myself at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, October 21. I was slated to venture from my Alexandria duplex to DC’s Armory on a cultural adventure to Refinery29’s “29Rooms: Expand Your Reality” exhibit, currently enjoying its first national tour, concurrently making its DC debut. 

The women’s publication first unveiled the concept in 2015, giving attendees of New York Fashion Week an opportunity to walk through 29 distinct artistic experiences, ranging from vibrant and fuzzy to interactive and talkative. Fast forward four years, and the exhibition is on the road visiting cities like Atlanta, Dallas and DC, along with bigger U.S. cultural hubs like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. 

“When I heard we were coming to DC it was an exciting surprise,” says DC native Olivia Fagon, Refinery29’s creative director. “Most of our team is from New York, so there was a little bit of mystery as to what it would mean to bring it here. I think for me, I was super excited to tap local artists who are from DC.”

The DC Armory stop runs through October 27, giving residents of the nation’s capital a chance to walk into, and throughout, rooms created by artists such as Kali Uchis, Yvette Mayorga, Dan Lam and NNEKKAA, and others. As part of this year’s rendition, 29Rooms has added what they’re calling “The Art Park,” an initiative intended to highlight local artists from the cities on the tour, including a stairway toward your dreams created by local illustrator Trap Bob, aka Tenbeete Solomon

Artist Tenbeete Solomon poses at the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

“I’ve always wanted to work with 29Rooms,” Solomon says. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for forever. My mind went to something expansive. I loved being able to explore with different mediums, because I don’t have the capacity to do these major rollouts, but it’s great to partner with people who have the same ideas and same values.” 

The team behind Refinery29 initially wanted a flat graphic, but she wanted something more engaging. When they suggested a staircase, Solomon approached the canvas thinking about its physicality from all sides, and though she wanted it to feel different than her illustrative works, it would still feel distinctly Trap Bob.

“It’s a weird thing to put a design on,” Solomon says. “I want to make sure each part is like its own piece, but still work together. I do hands a lot, it’s very relatable and something I love to do. They’re the perfect things. It’s my way to reach out to everybody and bringing that idea with the ‘follow your dreams’ theme, which is very, very close to me and my experience. It worked with the idea of climbing the stairs. Just the idea of elevating yourself and literally taking steps to get to where you want to get to. If I didn’t take those steps early in my career, there’s no way I’d be here talking about it.” 

For more local flair, Refinery29 tapped Howard University master of fine arts graduate Jamea Richmond-Edwards to construct a DC-centric full-scale billboard to welcome guests into the gallery. The murals are exclusive to the respective city’s art scene, to highlight the local community. 

Artist Jamea Richmond-Edwards poses at the 29Rooms: Expand Your Reality immersive art festival. // Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

Upon walking past the “Traveling Billboard” and into the main area, you’ll notice the lighting in the Armory is dark, giving each room and piece a spotlight effect. This is apt, as all hold a unique point of view worthy of said spotlight. And no matter which you stumble into, they all are connected by the theme of a woman’s experience in several facets of society and empowerment, echoing that of the publication’s mission.

“It was amazing to bring this brand that is not only pro-female, but very intersectional,” Fagan says. “We’re looking at women from all kinds of points of view. There’s a lot of political undertones in the event as well and those aren’t necessarily supposed to resonate specifically to DC, but I think whatever city we take it to, it makes a strong statement.”

Giving a tour, Fagan identifies a few rooms as fan favorites including “Dream Doorways,” a display with several (you guessed it) doors leading to stunning visuals that could make you question whether you’re on psychedelics; “A Conversation With Your Inner Child,” an interactive room which allows you to tap into the dreams and desires of a younger you; and “29 Questions,” a collection of tables and chairs meant to evoke discussions among strangers congregating throughout the exhibit.  

The different perspectives from a diverse set of artists is meant to represent and reflect those same qualities in the audience of the attendees. For Fagan, the doors are open for everyone, and she hopes people are as excited to explore the rooms to find their own favorites. 

“We always welcome that,” Fagan says. “I think Refinery has perceptions around it: people know us as a women’s publication, people know us for having certain types of values. I think as much as we can attract people in, and then surprise them with something they may not have thought of in a certain way, it’s always a gift if we can. If we’re creating a space where our values are just resonating with that audience already, that’s great too.” 

Gallery times are 1:30-10:30 p.m. on Tuesday-Thursday and 10:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. on Friday-Sunday. Tickets start at $29 and guarantee access for one 2.5 hour session. For more information about 29Rooms, visit here.

DC Armory: 2001 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.29rooms.com

Photo: Getty Images for IMG/Refinery29

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 Healthy Living, Inc.

DC’s Champions of Healthy Eating

DC wasn’t always a place for folks looking to eat healthy. For some living in the city, it still isn’t. For example, in Southeast DC, there is still an utter lack of grocery stores – even with the announcement of new additions earlier this year. Low-income and at-risk residents often lack the resources and education to make healthy decisions with regards to food. Add that to scarcity, and the impact – or lack thereof – of healthy food options can reverberate through the community on a multitude of levels.

That isn’t to say there aren’t nonprofits and other organizations in DC looking to either provide or educate people of all backgrounds on the values of nutrition. There is a range of places for people to learn and discover the merits of healthy eating in the nation’s capital, and for our Dine the District issue, we decided to highlight a few organizations embracing the initiative in different ways.

Healthy Living Starts with Education

When Healthy Living, Inc.’s founder and executive director Juliette Tahar arrived in the United States in the late 1960s after spending her childhood in West Africa and France, she was surprised at the meager emphasis on fresh foods found in American grocery stores.

“The biggest shock wasn’t the culture [or] the language,” Tahar says. “It was the food. I grew up with an abundance of fresh food. For me, when I came to the U.S., the options were limited. There were aisles and aisles of frozen food. Fresh produce was limited to iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. I think my interest in food started there because of this food cultural shock. I wanted to reconnect to what I knew as a child.”

After years spent cooking, catering and educating on the merits of macrobiotics in food, Tahar founded Healthy Living in 2003 with a mission to create programs built around nutrition education and healthy cooking. Whether it be hands-on demos or simple Q&A opportunities for eager learners, Tahar and youth program manager Mark Weinberger have been able to utilize their culinary backgrounds to help DC’s less privileged.

“The education aspect is the strong foundation we apply that is useful for all people,” Weinberger says. “The knowledge is basic, and people get culinary skills and knowledge of why they’re eating what they’re eating. We implement after school programs and summer programs for younger participants so they can learn to be aware of what’s growing in the region seasonally. You have to get people engaged.”

Though the programs are largely based on plant-based foods, Weinberger says they make an effort to keep it simple with items people can find at chain grocery stores and even some corner stores. With the understanding that not everyone can purchase organic foods, the point of emphasis is often on preparation.

“Yesterday, I taught at an organization that works with young families to show what you can accomplish on a budget,” Tahar says. “We want to get families cooking together. We want them to own the cooking. We want to empower people because when you cook for yourself, you’re in charge.”

Weinberger makes it a point to differentiate from the misnomer that having a healthy diet requires people to become vegan or vegetarian. Healthy Living does not advocate any one way of eating, he says. Because of the varied backgrounds of the DC residents they serve, their programs focus on diets that work for individuals and their families.

“The approach is more about education and helping them figure out what works best for them,” Weinberger says. “We want people to understand and make the best choices for themselves.”

Part of understanding a topic is asking the right questions, and Tahar has noticed a hunger for knowledge from people who have participated in their programs.

“People come with questions and ask my opinion,” Tahar says. “People do listen and want to be in the programs and learn. Change doesn’t happen all of a sudden. It’s about being totally inclusive and inviting people to explore their relationship with what they eat. It’s building consciousness and awareness. It takes a long time. We build relationships with partners in the long term.”

For more information about Healthy Living, Inc., visit www.healthylivinginc.org.

Bread for the City Makes Impact with Farmers Market

Farmers markets are often associated with affluence – people casually strolling in a downtown location sifting through various vegetables and an assortment of artisanal products, most often with a backdrop of music. However, Bread for the City operates two free farmers markets on a monthly basis, offering a different way for people to get nutritious goods.

“There are usually about 200 people present at the sessions, and they’re able to get fruits, vegetables and other staples that people need,” says Sonya Springfield, Bread for the City’s volunteer and in-kind manager.

Springfield views the need for more healthy options among DC residents as fairly straightforward, pointing out an extremely simplified cause and effect that has to be addressed.

“It’s pretty uncomplicated,” she continues. “Poverty leads to food insecurity and that leads to poor nutrition, and that then leads to all sorts of consequences for people’s health. Poverty in DC is higher among black residents. When individuals have low income, they usually buy foods that are really cheap. In the cases of Ward 7 and 8, there aren’t many grocery stores. Fifty percent of the city’s youth live in those wards, so a lack of access is having a big impact.”

That’s where Bread for the City’s programs come in, including the aforementioned farmers markets as well as food pantries that provide healthy options to people near or below the federal poverty line. According to the website, Bread for the City serves more than 8,400 people per month through their food programs.

“People can get the amount of food needed dependent on their household size,” Springfield says. “People are happy to have access to fresh foods and vegetables.”

While Bread for the City provides what it can to the underserved of DC, Springfield mentions how the scarcity of viable grocery stores and price of vegetables at higher-end locations can be a deterrent for the people who use the organizations pantries and farmers markets. While education plays a big part in helping shape people’s eating habits, access and affordability are just as important to the cause.

“People want to eat well and be healthy, but survival comes before health, and survival has to take a lot of different things into consideration,” Springfield says. “When people with limited funds are deciding what to trade off on a particular month to make everything fit, expensive food just doesn’t make the cut when there’s a cheap option that will also keep them alive for the time being. We can take a bunch of grapes to the counter and they’ll cost about $12. When you compare that to a $2 bag of chips, it’s easy to see why some parents are forced to give their children the less healthy option to snack on.”

For more information about Bread for the City, visit www.breadforthecity.org.

Miriam’s Kitchen Shows and Tells

For Miriam’s Kitchen Executive Chef Cheryl Bell, a large component of educating people about nutrition is by showing them how it can taste.

“We have to get very creative about how we’re making healthy alternatives for foods that people like,” Bell says. “You’re never going to have fried chicken here, but we’ll do baked chicken. We’ll do oven-baked steak fries. We try to elevate everything from a taste perspective. We want foods to nourish you, not harm you.”

Miriam’s Kitchen was founded in 1983 when the Western Presbyterian Church, Unity Church and the George Washington University Hillel banded together to serve meals to their neighbors. Shortly after, the organization added case management and a therapeutic art program. Now the nonprofit partners with hundreds of corporations and faith communities to end chronic homelessness. This includes a housing program, advocacy program and several others.

“I don’t want someone to get housing and then die a year later because they were unhealthy,” Bell says. “That’s my goal: to help people understand. We often see people who have struggled to get off the streets then get housing, only for them to die because of health [reasons]. It happens.”

One key component separating Miriam’s from other shelters or soup kitchens is Bell’s ability to showcase healthy options of familiar dishes. For instance, Bell mentions that the kitchen cooks recognizable things like lasagna or cheeseburgers but uses all-natural ingredients. She concedes that in the past, kitchens for the malnourished were more focused on quantity over quality. But in her own kitchen, this has shifted dramatically.

“I have a responsibility as a chef to serve and take care of people, and that means I have to think about all the ways I can do that,” Bell says. “We work with guests to educate them so they can be aware when they go somewhere else and know what they can and can’t have. It’s not about providing meals. It’s about providing people with a better quality of life.”

For more information about Miriam’s Kitchen, visit www.miriamskitchen.org.

Broccoli City Puts Emphasis on Educating Festivalgoers

Renowned for its ability to draw large musical acts and talented artists to the DC area, the annual Broccoli City Festival has also provided opportunities for food education in a place you’d otherwise not expect to find it. Though nutrition and hip-hop seem like an odd combination, cofounder Brandon McEachern says it’s actually pretty organic.

“It’s all important – that’s why we do it,” McEachern says. “We just try to touch them. You think it’s a hip-hop concert, but you leave with a bag of fresh vegetables. That’s the kind of vendors we have. You leave with stuff that you really needed. [That’s the] basis of Broccoli City. It’s community over competition. The message and the mission is love and community and giving back. Get your hands dirty. It’s an organic thing.”

McEachern says part of what spurred the idea was his time spent in California as a production assistant, where he worked in Santa Monica but got haircuts in South Central. He describes the difference as obvious, and it inspired an idea to promote health-conscious foods through means that would allow people to keep their “swag.”

“I looked at the differences between the neighborhoods. In South Central, there’s liquor store, liquor store, McDonald’s. When I saw that, I wanted to create a festival where you can feel healthy and still be on some swag sh-t. Broccoli represents fresh, and City represents the rawness of urban.”

Broccoli City also promotes health awareness at the Shaw-based Broccoli City Bar, including events hosted by #DontMuteMyHealth, a local grassroots movement in DC to reclaim community health from outside influences and interests. The festival itself also hosts a number of events focused on health-related activities including a 5K, a conference and several panel discussions.

“Man, they show it love,” McEachern says. “We’re an option. You have to present it. It’s a consistent way to deliver the message. Keep coming back, keep trying to educate.”

Broccoli City’s next endeavor is Food and Grooves at Union Market’s Dock5 on October 26 with appearances from Questlove, Chef Kwame Onwuachi of Kith/Kin and a score of other culinary and musical talent. Though the focus isn’t inherently on health or nutrition, McEachern assures that Broccoli City’s mission will be felt at the festival.

Learn more about Broccoli City Festival at www.bcfestival.com.

Broccoli City Bar: 1817 7th St. NW, DC; www.broccoli.bar

Food and Grooves at Dock5:
1309 5th St. NE, DC; https://foodandgroovesdc.frontgatetickets.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Bread for the City’s food programs served 8,400 people without the phrase “per month,” which was an error. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Sonya Springfield’s title and said she was a volunteer. Her title is Volunteer and In-Kind Manager. 

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, Goodall has established an unrivaled legacy of science, conservation and outreach. With her field notes full and her research center and program running smoothly, 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,” Goodall said before speaking to the audience at The Anthem. “The window of time is closing and it’s not enough just to wave placards, but we must take action.” 

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 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].” she said. “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 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.”

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 Goodall.

Highlights of the exhibition will include a replica of Dr. Goodall’s research tent, a hologram of 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, Goodall’s famed childhood stuffed animal chimpanzee, gifted to her in 1942. 

For more information about Jane Goodall, click here.