Anacostia’s Big Chair Coffee and Grill is back in business

What a difference four years make.

When Big Chair Coffee and Grill opened in January 2010 in Anacostia — across MLK Jr. Avenue from the rebuilt Duncan Phyfe dining-room chair that serves at the shop's namesake — the debut was covered by virtually every media outlet, from an Anacostia blogger to NBC Washington to The Washington Post . It was major news: A real-sit down eatery and coffee shop in a neighborhood better known for its liquor store and pizza-subs-and-Chinese carryouts.

Manager Bantamlak Yimenu and owner Ayehubizu Yimenu have pulled up a Big Chair for Anacostia. Again. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Manager Bantamlak Yimenu and owner Ayehubizu Yimenu have pulled up a Big Chair for Anacostia. Again. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

But after struggling with its finances and fishing around for a buyer, Big Chair finally collapsed last fall. Its closure inspired another round of headlines.

Amid almost no fanfare, however, Big Chair Coffee and Grill has reopened. It has, in fact, been back in business since December when owner Ayehubizu Yimenu and her brother and manager Bantamlak Yimenu revamped the place. Since resuming control over Big Chair from manager Michael Sterling, who had subleased the shop for  a year, the siblings have tinkered with the menu. In December, they offered both Jamaican and Ethiopian dishes, the former a nod to Sterling's legacy and the latter a nod to Yimenu's heritage.

Just this week, though, Big Chair dropped the Jamaica accent.

"It is costly," Bantamlak Yimenu said today, sitting at a two-top inside the reborn coffee shop and grill. "The spices and all that stuff [are costly]. Not only that, the cook is expensive. I can't afford them."

The current Big Chair menu features a number of sandwiches, from chicken to fish to steak and cheese, as well as a line of "hand-crafted burgers": turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, and, of course, mini burgers. The prices hover in the $5 and $6 range.

The Ethiopian dishes will remain, too. The cafe offers both a "Big Chair Ethiopian veggie combo" and a "Big Chair Ethiopian meat combo," as well as beef and lamb tibs.

Since the shop reopened, Anacostia neighbors have complained Big Chair's hours have been erratic, but Bantamlak Yimenu says that will change next week when the cafe starts following regular hours (posted below). The new hours include an earlier 9 a.m. start, which should allow locals to take advantage of Big Chair's other prime offering: Ethiopian coffee. Big Chair may even start hosting Ethiopian coffee ceremonies in the future.

"Not now," Bantamlak Yimenu cautions about the ceremony in which whole beans are roasted, brewed and served in house for customers. "We're not ready for it."

Big Chair Coffee and Grill, 2122 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, 202-525-4287. Hours: 9 a.m. to midnight Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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