Sticky Rice was the beginning. Belcher also went in on a New Orleans-style place on Ninth Street NW called the 1905 Bistro and Bar. He invested in another Sticky Rice location in Baltimore, the pie shop and several food trucks.
He seemed to thrive on the demanding rhythms of the restaurant life. Asked by a blogger what inspired him to open a restaurant, Belcher replied: “I was hanging something in the bathroom and stood on the toilet. I slipped off and hit my head. I had a vision of tater tots . . . the rest is history.”
At various points, he mentioned past struggles with alcohol and drugs. But he remained sober, at least until 2010, when a business partner noticed him ordering wine.
“I said, ‘Joey, did something change?’ ” said Tony Dundas-Lucca, his partner at 1905. Belcher explained that he had been in Europe on vacation, visiting vineyards, and had “decided he wanted to try wine and see how it went.”
By then his sister, Mimi Belcher, had focused her work on studying cocaine addiction at NIH. When she heard that her brother was drinking again, she confronted him.
“What makes you think you can control this?” she asked.
Last June, she confronted him again. If he was using drugs and drinking, she recalled texting, “please remember what this did to your family.” In his response, Mimi Belcher said, Joey admitted to smoking pot and taking LSD on occasion. But, he insisted: “I have everything under control.”
Schwartz wasn’t so sure, warning Dianna Townsend, Belcher’s girlfriend: “If Joey isn’t sober, all bets are off for you and for him. You need to know that Joey Belcher is first and foremost an alcoholic and drug addict of the worst kind.”
His parents realized he was drinking again two months ago, when he showed up late for Thanksgiving, and they smelled alcohol on his breath.
“Be careful, you’re playing with fire,” his father told him.
“I’m okay,” Joey replied.
On the last weekend of his life, Belcher celebrated “Bananarchy,” an annual free-rolling festival in which participants dress up in banana costumes and bar-hop. Belcher’s apartment mate, Groeschel, urged Belcher to refrain from drinking that Saturday, Dec. 15, because he had just gotten over a severe flu.
He didn’t listen. At 2 a.m. on Sunday, he was at Jimmy Valentine’s, a bar on Bladensburg Road NE, said David Hemperly, a friend who lives in Belcher’s building and who was there.
At 6 a.m., after apparently never sleeping, he brought people to the apartment of another friend, Dianna Loevner, who has worked at Sticky Rice. The party went on. At one point, she said, they went to a supermarket to buy champagne and beer, and the person ahead of them in line did not have the money to cover the groceries. Belcher paid the bill.