On Monday evening, some of the region’s chefs, restaurateurs and bartenders gathered in the Ritz-Carlton’s ballroom in downtown Washington to hear the finalists for this year’s Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s Rammy awards. But among the most celebrated of the lot was a man who has never worked in a kitchen, never attended culinary school and doesn’t even hold a bartender’s license.
Rich Massabny just loves local food.
For 25 years, Massabny has promoted Washington area restaurants and theater companies on the Arlington Weekly News program and his local cable television shows, “Rich’s Place” and “Conversations with Rich.” He has become a beloved personality in the Washington region and was recognized at Monday night’s event.
“He has been a very integral part of the hospitality, arts and cultural industries here in the nation’s capital region,” said Visit Fairfax CEO Barry Biggar in a sentimental speech before the nominations. He thanked Massabny for being “one of the longest-running cheerleaders” of local restaurants.
Massabny, 75, has lived in Arlington for nearly 60 years. His two Fairfax television shows are filmed once a month and air three times the following week. “Rich’s Place,” a half-hour cooking show, features local chefs, and “Conversations with Rich,” his hour-long talk show, features personalities such as WTOP’s Bob Madigan and Virginia Ballet artistic director Tish Cordova. On his six-minute Arlington Weekly News segment, he reviews plays and opera at theaters throughout the region.
Massabny was born in Brooklyn and moved to Arlington when he was 18. He attended George Washington University and spent 30 years in sales. Then, during a visit to an Arlington county fair in 1987, he was approached by someone in Arlington Cable Television’s booth who said he looked nice in their monitor.
“I had a full head of black hair back then,” he said. “Hard to believe, I know.”
The station was looking for someone to do theater reviews, and Massabny volunteered. He went to the station to fill out an application, and as he was leaving, a producer frantically approached him to fill in for an anchor who hadn’t shown up.
“It was right out of a movie,” Massabny said. “He asked me if I could do six minutes on restaurants, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Now, 25 years later, Massabny has been instrumental in promoting the area’s restaurants and theater.
“I’ve appeared on his shows and always had a ball,” said RAMW president Lynne Breaux. “But more than anything, he promoted the region when not that many were. We’ve grown because of people like Rich.”
Massabny said he doesn’t bother with negative reviews. Rather, if he doesn’t like something, he simply won’t write about it.
“No theater or restaurant tries to be bad,” he said. “They do everything they can to have a success, so I’m not in the business of trashing things.”
Although he doesn’t get paid for his work, he said the opportunity to remain active in the community is reward enough. He doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.
“I’ll stop when I’m dead,” he said, “but don’t hold your breath.”