In a few hours, they were to present plans for a sidewalk cafe on H Street, the playground of the uber-hip in Northeast Washington where they already owned a sushi place called Sticky Rice. Michelle Obama had once stopped in to eat dinner. Their pie shop down the street had a name that almost described Belcher’s life: Dangerously Delicious.
At 37, Joey Belcher had piloted airplanes, luxuriated on yachts, and earned as much as $250,000 a month as a mortgage broker. There had also been a long phase, beginning in college, when he smoked enough crack that his father fantasized about using a gun to paralyze him so he couldn’t leave home to buy drugs.
All these years later, Belcher possessed the kind of robust vigor that made him seem like “five men at full throttle,” his sister, Mimi Belcher, said. Besides the restaurants and food trucks he already co-owned, he had plans to expand and open a nightclub.
On that Monday afternoon, Martin went into Belcher’s silent apartment and knocked on his bedroom door. No answer.
Martin opened the door and saw a bare mattress, clothes scattered about, an overturned candy jar and the footboard separated from the bed. On the floor, on the far side of the bed, Joey Belcher lay on his back, clothed. He was not breathing.
Martin leapt on his friend.
“C’mon Joey!” he shouted, pounding on his chest. “This can’t be happening!”
More than five weeks later, the death of Joey Belcher remains a mystery.
Police have declined to comment on the case, citing a pending autopsy report. Although detectives have indicated that Belcher did not show the signs of trauma that would suggest homicide, they have interviewed friends and family, scoured his apartment and tried to retrace his last steps.
Questions have mounted: Where was Belcher before Martin found him? Who was he with? What happened to this energetic, ambitious man who was so immersed in planning his future?
“He shouldn’t be dead,” said Markus Groeschel, Sticky Rice’s manager, with whom Belcher shared the apartment. “And none of us understand why he is.”
What is known is that Belcher’s death has devastated his large circle of friends, family and patrons. What also is known is that, after a decade of sobriety, Belcher had started drinking and using drugs again, even as his businesses thrived and he assured everyone he was fine.
For the past five years, he was part of a wave of entrepreneurs who seized on Washington’s economic renaissance and sought to remake its night life. Across the city, they invested in often-dilapidated corridors, opening stylish restaurants and quirky bars catering to young professionals. As much as the developers altering the city’s skyline, they helped redefine neighborhoods such as the H Street corridor.