When Bill and Rose Lindsay decided to open a restaurant back in 1983, they envisioned a place where people could simply eat and drink in an elegant atmosphere. They reckoned that disco spots had seen their better days and baby boomers were moving to mellow music and jazz.
But it took more than a good idea to get their business, called Mingles, off the ground, or in this case below ground in a cozy basement at the corner of 14th and I streets NW.
In a city fraught with obstacles to succeeding in small business, the Lindsays encountered pitfalls with unique racial twists. For example, the Lindsays, who are black, wanted an integrated restaurant. But some bank loan officers believed that having black owners made the restaurant an exclusively "black business," and consequently a more risky venture.
"Some loan officers actually said that if we had been like Clyde's of Georgetown, there wouldn't be a problem," said Rose Lindsay. "I couldn't figure out what that meant, other than to say the owners of Clyde's are white."
With a menu that includes filet mignon, shrimp stuffed with crab imperial, Louisiana-style gumbo and a variety of sandwiches, including the basically American ham and cheese, Mingles could hardly be called a black restaurant.
Yet, as the Lindsays scoured the city in search of loans and space to lease, they were constantly confronted with doubts, delays and rejection.
"The more difficult it became, the more we became convinced no one would stop us from opening our own business," Lindsay said. "You get depressed, but you get back up and start figuring out a new way."
After being turned down for space on K Street and Connecticut Avenue, Bill Lindsay saw a basement for lease in the new United Press International building on 14th Street, in the center of the city's "tenderloin" strip. While a group of area businessmen was pushing hard by day for demolition of the strip, prostitutes aggressively worked the night.
"We knew we would get flack about being on 14th Street," said Bill Lindsay. But a lease was a lease.
"We wanted the Lindsays in the neighborhood," said Arthur Schultz III, who represents the Franklin Square Associates, a group of business leaders promoting redevelopment in the area. "This is the first upscale establishment to come to the area since we began our campaign to make this the best neighborhood in the city. They are real pioneers."
The Lindsays, with financial backing from Rose's mother, Carolyn Ferguson, eventually secured a loan from the D.C. National Bank, which has close ties to the Franklin Square Associates. Rose's uncle, Walter McLaughlin, a retired carpenter, drove in from California and teamed up with other family members to build the place.
But when the restaurant and bar opened in February, the clientele was virtually all black. Sociologically, there existed a racial phenomenon sometimes referred to as a "tipping point," in which whites mix with blacks in restaurants and nightclubs until they are outnumbered. Then they leave.
But the skeptics would be proved wrong.
"We felt that if blacks can be comfortable in a predominately white environment, whites can be comfortable among blacks," said Rose Lindsay. "You just have to find those who don't care about that sort of thing."
Easier said than done. But it was done.
Since Mingles is the "flagship" of the Franklin Square renewal efforts, members of the business associates encourage their clients and friends to dine there. The idea works well for lunch, and there are signs that ground is being broken as integrated crowds gather for happy hours.
The ingredients to this success story are many, but what stands out are attributes that have worked time and time again for virtually every racial and ethnic group that gets ahead, often against all odds: family ties, perserverence and thrift. And, of course, there was the dream -- simply stated by Rose Lindsay as "having a place where people are free to mingle."