Busboys and Poets (Chinatown)
Classic food in a culturally rich environment.
Our REAL Thoughts
Busboys and Poets is more than just a restaurant, it is a community. It is a place to learn, grow, connect, and of course, eat. Their impressive menu ensures that there is something for everyone, from vegetarian nachos to Angus beef burgers. In addition, there is a tribute to the arts at each location with regular poetry readings, open mic nights, film screenings, book readings, and more. Get cultured, get fed!
The REAL Beginning
Andy Shallal, owner and creator of Busboys and Poets, has spent most of his life in Washington, DC. He always thought it was odd that the nations capital, a place defined by history, seemed to lack a cultural identity. To remedy this problem, he decided to unify communities in underserved neighborhoods by creating a space that would allow visitors to relax and nourish the mind, body and soul. Featuring local artwork on its walls, local authors in its bookstores, and local performers on its stages, Busboys and Poets became exactly that place.
Sit down with owner Andy Shallal
Why was it so important for you to capture the culture of Washington, DC in your restaurant?
“I noticed how quickly the gentrification process was sweeping through DC and erasing a lot of the culture that made it beautiful. I wanted a space that would highlight and nurture that culture, rather than forget about it. That’s why we selected the U Street corridor for our first location. It has a vibrant African American culture, and a unique poetry scene that we want to support.”
Where did you come up with the name, Busboys and Poets?
“The name is a tribute to the great poet, Langston Hughes. Before he became a well-known poet, he was a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel. I love all kinds of art, specifically poetry. I used to go to poetry programs in the same neighborhood where we put our first location. So I knew I wanted to capture the arts in the name. I also wanted to pay tribute to the Harlem Renaissance.”
What is the inspiration behind the food you serve?
“I wanted to stick with classic food and update it with modern preparation, sourcing, and procurement. We really serve simple food, but we make sure it’s real, nutritious, sustainable food. I want to feel like we are nurturing the people in the communities that, historically speaking, have not had a great selection of restaurants that care about their well-being.”
What was the hardest part about making Busboys and Poets a reality?
“It was very difficult to get funding. People didn’t believe in the business model at first. I was saying that we would provide a place where people can hang out, read a book, drink a coffee, and relax – which isn’t the most profitable idea.”
How do you want people to feel after eating at a Busboys and Poets?
“Obviously I want them to feel full and satisfied! But I also hope that anyone who visits a Busboys and Poets leaves feeling uplifted, both racially and culturally.”