| By Nicole Cusick |
Diton Pashaj of Rustik Tavern in Bloomingdale behind his bar on a Monday afternoon. / Photo by Nicole Cusick
On a Friday night the corner of T and First St. Northwest is bustling with young professional couples meeting friends laughing and drinking at any of the several bars and restaurants that line the intersection. That’s according to Diton Pashaj, owner of Rustik Tavern on T Street. Four years ago it was a ghost town after the few dry cleaners and takeout joints closed for the night.
LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale are two neighborhoods in D.C. that have not been on the radar of many Washingtonians, but are literally growing from the ground up, according to local business owners. Many neighborhoods in D.C. are going through the process of gentrification; LeDroit and Bloomingdale seem to pride themselves on undergoing the process of change in a natural way, without radical displacement or cultural shifts.
Pashaj joined the Bloomingdale community in September 2010 as the only sit-down restaurant in the neighborhood. He was looking for a neighborhood in need of a local evening hang out, and he saw great potential in Bloomingdale. From the time he opened shop, Pashaj knew he wanted to be a part of the change in the community reaching beyond just being a hot spot to get a beer and some pizza.
“We were laughed at just three years ago, but we could be the next Logan Circle,” said Pashaj about the future of Bloomingdale. Pashaj is also a part of North Capitol Main Street, a non-profit that helps local businesses looking for a little help. Some of their projects include giving businesses new store facades to perk up their appearance. In addition to the non-profit Pashaj also took the park that sits across the street from Rustik and began the gardening efforts there. Now it is a spot that features several different plants and several sculptures.
“It has be great to see young couples become young families here, and see the boarded up houses that used to line this street become first homes, said Pashaj. “We are on step like three of seven with the changing going on here, but it is something.”
LeDroit Park – Common Goods City Farm
Common Goods City Farm is another local non-profit that is serving the LeDroit community as an urban farm and education center to serve the low-income residents of Washington, DC. Their farm now is located by Oakdale Place and the Park at LeDroit.
According to Anita Adalja, the farm manager, 85 percent of the food produced at the farm goes to locals who work there in exchange for food. The rest is sold to local businesses. Local businesses like Meridian Pint buy vegetables from Common Goods for their Meatless Mondays and donate a portion of their profits to the farm. Bacio Pizzeria also buys several herbs from the Common Goods. Blind Dog Café donates their left over coffee grounds to the farm they repurpose as fertilizer.
Map of the Businesses and Organizations of LeDroit Park/Bloomingdale/Shaw
Bloomingdale – Bacio Pizzeria
Bacio Pizzeria began their involvement with Common Goods when they approached Bacio’s owner, Atilla Suzer, about using his kitchen to make pesto from the basil they grow in hopes of selling their product. From then on Suzer tried to buy whatever produce he could to support the local non-profit.
Suzer came to the Bloomingdale community when he was looking to open his all natural pet supply store, Green Paws, which is located directly above Bacio Pizzeria. He opened Green Paws two years ago, and the pizzeria 18 months ago. He too was looking to get into a neighborhood that was developing.
“We have experienced the same change in two years that H Street has experience in ten. We did this all on our own, they had a lot of help and it was forced,” said Suzer as he was simultaneously helping a customer in Bacio’s while yelling to his other employee from Green Paws in Turkish.
Suzer knew his clientele was more conscious of where their food comes from; he believes they want to eat at places that use local food sources. That is why he was willing to work with Common Goods as well as offer locally made ice cream and cookies.
Suzer is also active in the community, most recently supporting the Bloomingdale Beautification Day on Saturday, April. 20. The Bloomingdale Civic Association put the event on, and asked if he would donate a few pizzas to thank the volunteers who worked all day cleaning up the streets of the neighborhood. Bacio is often the host of local fundraisers according to Suzer.
“The feelings of the people develop and support the neighbors, and we grow together, the businesses an important part of that,” Suzer said. “You need to give back what you take.”
Roy, “Chip” Ellis, of Ellis Development Group worked to give back to the Shaw community when his company took on the Howard Theatre Renovation. Ellis is a fourth-generation Washingtonian, and a Howard University alum. Ellis said this project became a labor of love.
“The community was involved from the beginning, they were there to help raise money and collect memorabilia that had gone missing since the theater was closed for 30 years,” said Ellis.
Shaw – Howard Theatre
Ellis was also responsible for the non-profit that was created to help fund the restoration (Howard Theatre Restoration). In total they raised one million of the 29 million used for the restoration. The theatre was a cultural and entertainment of Shaw, and it is taking back its place in the community said Ellis. Young and old audiences are coming together to see a variety of artists perform in this one historic venue.
The restoration of the theatre has been complete for a year now. Recently the theatre held a Gala planned to celebrate the anniversary of the theater restoration and to continue to raise money for the phase two of the renovation. The next phase includes a library and a museum space according to Ellis.
This new source of entertainment is giving people a new reason to visit the Shaw area. This development will surely bring in new eateries like places popping up all over Bloomingdale and LeDroit. There are a few in the works already. Two of them by Derek Brown, an award winning restaurant owner of The Passenger near the Seventh Street. Convention Center. Brown will be opening Mockingbird Hill, a sherry bar, and Eat the Rich, an oyster bar in the Progression Place development that is right by the Shaw metro. He hopes it will become a local favorite and integral part of the community after he announced the opening at the LeDroit Civic Association meeting in March.
The Civic Associations of LeDroit and Bloomingdale are holding the residents accountable for the community they live in. Both neighborhoods held Beautification Days in the last month to encourage residents to come together to keep their streets clean.
The local businesses, community organizations, and non-profits in these communities are embracing their roles in the community, and are working to naturally improve these neighborhoods to revitalize their place in DC.