Washington DC

DC Hospitality Industry Galvanize to Support One Another and Community

"I got into the hospitality industry because I want to take care of people."

Santa Rosa Taqueria
Santa Rosa Taqueria
Santa Rosa Taqueria

This week, restaurants in DC were ordered to shut down to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. While they can still offer takeout or delivery, dining rooms will be idle and many have chosen to close up shop completely. This means an added burden on top of what were already paper-thin margins and challenging odds. Trying times are ahead for the restaurant industry — everything from workers lacking a safety net to rent and expenses piling up with no capital coming in.
 
After resounding calls from the industry for swift assistance from the government, the DC government passed emergency legislation, providing grants and loans for small businesses, sales tax relief, prohibition of evictions, and resources for unemployed workers.

But even as they brace for certain financial losses and uncertain futures, chefs and owners are doubling down on their commitment to hospitality, lending a hand to those in need — each other, their employees, and the community.
 
Anna Valero, owner of tavern and events venue Hook Hall in Park View, is leading a collective effort to help hospitality industry workers. When things started to go south, Valero and her team asked themselves, “What can we do? What are we hearing from the folks in the industry?” The answer was unanimous. “I was hearing from other business owners, ‘We need to help our crew but we don’t know how.'”
 
With 13,500 square feet of space now empty, Valero was in a unique situation. “We had the opportunity there, with the space being so large, to provide services and still provide social distancing.”She launched Hook Hall Helps to offer supplies, meals, and educational programming to those out of work. “The antidote to fear is action, and doing something is better than nothing,” she says. “Hospitality’s been uniting behind it.”  The program offers care kits filled with essentials like non-perishable pantry essentials, toilet paper, and toiletries. Using the donated perishable food from restaurants that have had to close their kitchens, the team is making cooked meals available for pickup. “We’re calling it kitchen gleaning,” Valero says.  
 
The efforts are being bolstered by the Coronavirus Worker Relief Fund, set up in partnership with the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) to collect donations for industry workers. As of Monday night, the fund had raised $22,000, which is being used for supplies and meals for the time being. Valero says she and the team are continually assessing the situation and will shift the focus of the funds as needs evolve.

“In DC, 96% of sit down restaurants are independently operated,” RAMW president and CEO Kathy E. Hollinger said in a statement to Thrillist. “They are hit the hardest by what is happening, and we have seen a decrease in sales ranging from 30-60% for restaurants that have been able to keep their doors open. It is critical for us to not only look at what is happening today, but also think about the future of our industry and what relief and stimulus are necessary for the restaurants and workers to weather this storm.”
 
While Hook Hall Helps encompasses a number of industry businesses and partners, but there are many others spearheading efforts of their own, targeting the industry and the community at large. Most notably, humanitarian and industry leader José Andrés has converted the majority of his restaurants in DC and New York to community kitchens offering affordable plates of the day available for takeout via the restaurants’ side doors. Hours of operation are 12-5pm daily.
 
“We are in a serious global emergency and people need to take every precaution, including staying home as much as possible,” Andrés said in a statement. “However, we also want to help provide food for those who want it in a safe manner, so we feel these community kitchens can help during this challenging time. And those who cannot afford to pay we will welcome as well.”Inspired by Andrés and World Central Kitchen, chef Erik Bruner-Yang started The Power of 10 to help mobilize restaurant workers while also helping to alleviate the food-insecure in the DC area. The hope is that, by raising $10,000 per week in donations, the organization can provide 10 full-time jobs to restaurant workers and 1,000 free meals to the community. The program is being piloted in three DC restaurants Cane, ABC Pony, and Maketto — with the hope to scale it over time.

“Every neighborhood has a restaurant that is an extension of your home,” Bruner-Yang said in a statement. “These neighborhood restaurants are independently owned, usually operate with a team of less than 30 staff, and unfortunately lack the resources to face challenges like a rapidly expanding pandemic.”

Also providing for the community is local nonprofit Real Foods for Kids, which has partnered with Bayou Bakery owner and chef David Guas to offer plant-based meals for kids and families in Arlington County during the school closure. Donations have kickstarted the program and Guas is seeking additional donors. Meals are available between 10am-noon at the restaurant. Updates are being posted via Facebook. Bayou Bakery is still open for curbside pickup and delivery orders via Uber Eats.

In addition, famed chef Edward Lee is partnering with Knead Hospitality + Design and Maker’s Mark to transform Succotash restaurant in Penn Quarter into a relief center for any restaurant worker who has been laid off or experienced a significant reduction in hours. Starting Wednesday, March 18, between 5-8pm, workers can visit the restaurant for a free to-go dinner, fresh produce, and supplies.
 
As they stay open for takeout and delivery, many restaurants, including RASA, We The Pizza, Good Stuff Eatery, Santa Rosa Taqueria, and Punjab Grill have been offering free meals to people in need. RASA is serving school children, hospital workers, and their staff for free. Kids eat free at Sunnyside Restaurant Group locations during the school closures. Punjab Grill is serving packaged meals on Saturdays at Franklin Square. Though they’ve shut down their operations, Little Sesame is working with nonprofit partner Dreaming Out Loud to drop meals to vulnerable communities.
 
Adam Greenberg of Coconut Club is still open for weekend takeout and delivery via its website, and during this time he is supporting his staff and other industry workers in the process of applying for unemployment. He’s setting up appointments at Coconut Club to walk people through the process with provided laptops and iPads. He says interested individuals can email him with questions or to set up an appointment at [email protected].
 
Greenberg says he’ll have to take out loans to make it through the coronavirus shutdown, but he’s trying to stay positive. “I got into the hospitality industry because I want to take care of people,” he says.

Similarly, Hook Hall Helps is also assisting workers with logistical processes like applying for unemployment. The group is also planning to offer virtual education in the form of professional development, physical activity, and self-care classes. In addition the group, in partnership with local charter school E.L. Haynes, is providing meals and kits to affected families, as well as support to elderly neighborhoods.
 
For those who want to help, the program is seeking toiletries donations, doorstep delivery volunteers, and funds. As Valero explains: “The more folks — especially those who are able to telework — are able to consider making a dollar donation, that’s going to go the longest way in allowing us to really sustain efforts.”Sign up here for our daily DC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Lani Furbank is a DC-based freelance food writer. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lanifurbank or read her work at www.LanisCupOfTea.com.

Washington DC

15 Totally Free Things to Do in DC

A full itinerary, completely free of charge.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Washington DC is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, and for those of us who call the District home, it’s easy to see why. With dozens of world-class museums, murals that transform streets into galleries, and sites brimming with history, DC offers a full agenda-completely free of charge. Whether you want to try a new farmer’s market, explore a new hike, or polish off your roller skating or canoeing skills, here are some of our favourite free things to do in the District.

Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco
Flickr/gawnesco

Hike, bike, or stroll along the C&O Canal

The historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is one of the most accessible nature escapes from the District. Thanks to a multi-year restoration project, the first mile of the canal is an idyllic walk that’s easy to access in Georgetown. Stick to a short stroll there, or grab a bike or lace up your hiking shoes for a longer adventure along the 184.5-mile canal.

Jump on the pickleball craze

Pickleball is working its way up the ladder past kickball and softball as one of America’s favourite games. Jump on the craze and practice your paddling at one of the District’s pickleball courts in Takoma Park, the Palisades, and more. Plus, Washington DC Pickleball invites guests to drop in to beginner sessions to try their hand at the sport before signing up for a $30 annual membership.

Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion
Flickr/mcfeelion

Bike the Mount Vernon Trail

DC is incredibly bike-friendly, and luckily that applies to the land immediately outside of the city as well. Start in the city and bike along the Mount Vernon Trail, a scenic route that hugs the water and cuts through the woods. It’s about a 10-mile trip from DC to Mount Vernon, but you can cut the trip slightly short and end at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront-just make sure to factor in time for ice cream before pedalling home.

Explore a sculpture park

While not located in the District proper, Glenstone, an expansive sculpture park in Maryland, is worth the 45-minute drive. Tickets to the park are free (just be sure to reserve several weeks in advance), and the 300-acre space offers stunning art, architecture, and open land. In addition to its indoor gallery spaces, you can spend hours walking on paths that wind through sculptures, meadows, and forests.

Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston
Flickr/Geoff Livingston

See the monuments at night

When the sun goes down-and the summer humidity somewhat dissipates-head to the National Mall for the rare chance to see the monuments without busloads of tourists. Moonlight will give you a different perspective as you traverse the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial or gaze up at the Washington Monument set aglow with lights.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery

Museum hop the day away

One of DC’s greatest strengths is its world-class Smithsonian museums that are open to the public free of charge. There is no shortage of options, from the intimate Renwick Gallery, to the sprawling National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone. Pro tip: Some of the museums are open late in the evenings, making for an ideal date night.

muralsdc
muralsdc
muralsdc

Explore the city’s murals

Washington is home to hundreds of murals that are becoming as much a part of the city’s landscape as the monuments on the National Mall. Take a self-guided tour of these colourful creations no matter which neighbourhood you happen to be in. MuralsDC, the organization behind 150 of the District’s public artworks, is a great resource for mapping out a route to explore the city’s street art.

Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington
Hotel Washington

Take in a birds-eye view of the city

Washington looks pretty stunning from up high, and there are few spots within the city that make for phenomenal vantage points. Rooftop bars and restaurants offer epic views for the price of a drink or two, but there’s no more iconic sight than seeing the city from the top of the Washington Monument, which is completely free. Book a ticket ahead of time and ride an elevator all the way to the top of the monument and step out on the 500-foot observation deck.

Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond
Flickr/Nicolas Raymond

Wander through a garden

DC is home to some of the most beautiful urban gardens in the country, and many of them are open to the public for free. There is nothing like an afternoon spent strolling through, or picnicking, at the expansive 446-acre United States Arboretum or wandering through the Botanic Garden on the edge of the Mall. For something a bit smaller, explore the grounds at Tudor Place or Dumbarton Oaks (free in the winter), both of which are in Georgetown.

Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien
Flickr/ehpien

Hike the Billy Goat Trail

You can catch one of the District’s most popular hiking trails, the Billy Goat Trail, from the C&O canal. The full trail is 4.7 miles and ranges from easy to strenuous, so hike a section in and back or make the full loop for the variety.

Pay your respect at Arlington National Cemetery

Just across the Potomac from DC, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans. The cemetery is an expanse of 639 hallowed acres and the ANC Explorer allows visitors to locate graves, notable sites, and take self-guided walking tours to spots including the tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy.

Lace up your roller skates

When was the last time you went roller skating? Chances are it’s been too long. So get back into this nostalgic activity at the Anacostia Park roller skating pavilion. You can rent skates for free, just show proof of a government-issued ID, and the skating pavilion is open from 9 to 5 every day.

Help clean up the Anacostia River

We all know there’s a lot of work to be done to keep our waterways clean. Do your part, and have some fun, by participating in the city’s Green Boat initiative. On select weekends, DCers can join a two-hour guided paddle along the Anacostia River to collect trash and monitor the river’s progress.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market
Eastern Market

Stroll your local farmer’s market

DC’s close proximity to the farms of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and beyond mean that the city’s farmers’ markets always have something to offer. Check out the year-round markets like Eastern Market in Capitol Hill and the Sunday market in Dupont Circle or head to seasonal markets like the pop-up in front of the White House that draws vendors like Cucina al Volo and Call Your Mother Deli.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress

Play tourist all around the city

It’s easy to forget that all those traditionally touristy activities can be fun for locals too. If you haven’t been on a tour of the White House, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol, this is your sign. All are free with advanced reservations. Plus, tucked in the northern quadrant of NW, the Washington National Cathedral is free and open to all. Tour the cathedral’s impressive architecture, 215 stained glass windows, 112 Gothically-inspired gargoyles, and enormous pipe organ. See if you can spot the sculpture of Darth Vader.

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Madeline Weinfield is a Thrillist contributor.

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