The District’s hardscrabble Anacostia neighborhood has heard many promises of a new day — after the openings of businesses, government office buildings and a Metro stop, to name a few.
Those promises were renewed Wednesday, this time with the cachet of one of the most coveted brands in community development: Busboys and Poets, the local restaurant chain that developers have wooed relentlessly to anchor projects across the region, has inked a lease to open its seventh location in a former bowling alley in the 2000 block of Martin Luther King Avenue SE.
“I have had my eyes on this street and this neighborhood for a very long time,” the chain’s owner, Andy Shallal, said to a crowd of several dozen gathered for the announcement of a signed lease. “This will connect the dots. . . . When I see this building, I see possibilities.”
That building, most recently a furniture store, is in the heart of a retail district that has long been eyed for revitalization but has had more success attracting carry-outs and hair salons than the upscale outlets sought by community leaders.
The building was purchased in 2012 by the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, a city-funded nonprofit that connects low-income residents with various types of assistance. The restaurant will double as a training facility for Ward 8 residents who want to enter the hospitality and culinary fields; the collaborative plans to have its offices on the second floor.
Perry J. Moon, the collaborative’s executive director, said the decision to partner with Shallal came after listening to what community members wanted for the building — now a musty brick-and-concrete shell.
“We really wanted to have a space to give people some amenities,” he said, while also preparing residents for in-demand jobs in the city.
The partnership was hailed by community leaders who praised the collaborative’s move to create an attraction in Historic Anacostia and Shallal’s decision to commit to the neighborhood — and to its residents — after years of talk.
“He’s kept his word,” said the Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of the nearby Union Temple Baptist Church.
But tempering the congratulations is the fact that a ribbon-cutting is a long way off. Moon and Shallal said they hope to see the Anacostia Busboys open by spring 2016, but they differed on the challenges to be overcome.
Shallal, who recently mounted an unsuccessful bid for mayor, said he “already had a lot of the financing together” and was confident of the timeline to build out the 7,000-square-foot restaurant space.
Moon was more circumspect. “We’re not going to see a Busboys and Poets next week or next month,” he told the crowd. “It’s a long-term process, so we’re asking you to stay with us through the long haul.”
In an interview, Moon declined to detail how far along the project’s financing has come. “We’re looking at all available resources,” he said.