Washington City Paper first reported the contract changes, which a Central Kitchen spokesman said were secured even though the nonprofit’s bid was lower than Henry’s.
On Monday, D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) released a letter she sent to D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) seeking an investigation into the contract.
The March 22 letter said Central Kitchen “substantially” underbid Henry’s Soul Cafe, charging $3.20 for dinners while the caterer charges $5.18. The letter also flagged what Cheh called “irregularities” in the contract, saying Henry’s received more than Central Kitchen — a total of $7.2 million in 2016 — under previous contracts despite performing “far less work.”
“It seems worth investigating what Henry’s was providing the District before 2018 and why they received so much more money than the vendor that was providing the majority of the District’s shelter meal services,” the letter said.
Cheh also questioned Henry’s registration as a Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) — a local business that receives preference in procurement. She said the company had a D.C. address linked to “potentially fraudulent CBE registrations” in a 2017 D.C. auditor report.
Racine’s office said it received Cheh’s letter and is reviewing the issue.
In an interview, Rock Newman, a spokesman for Henry’s Soul Cafe, said the caterer never received money for work not done but was often paid for covering for Central Kitchen when the nonprofit showed up “with food uncooked, burned, cold or rotten.”
“[Henry’s] has gone year after year after year above and beyond the call of duty to service the homeless community,” Newman said. “They were rewarded during the bidding process because it was justified.” Regarding Cheh’s letter, he added: “When you read that letter, it is so obvious that she’s been supplied with very bad information.”
In a statement, Central Kitchen chief executive Mike Curtin said the organization has delivered meals to shelters “with love and respect.”
“The women and men who work so hard in our kitchen each day include individuals who have personally experienced homelessness and hunger,” the statement said. “Their commitment to ensuring the health and well-being of our neighbors experiencing homelessness is beyond reproach and sets a standard to which everyone should aspire.”
Cheh said in an interview she sent the letter because the contract and the CBE program left her feeling “disquiet.”
“It seems very fishy to me,” she said of the contract. “What will come out of this is maybe to spark a more comprehensive look at the CBE program.”
The nonprofit Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness manages the contract, funded by the D.C. Department of Human Services. Neither was available for comment.