Taking A Bite Of Shaw's Restaurant Boom | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Taking A Bite Of Shaw's Restaurant Boom

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SUNdeVICH is an independent sandwich shop located in historic Naylor Court, off 9th Street in Shaw.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Mr T in DC
SUNdeVICH is an independent sandwich shop located in historic Naylor Court, off 9th Street in Shaw.

On September 6, 2013, Mayor Vincent Gray brandished a pair of oversized yellow scissors and, in under an hour, cut the ribbon on three brand new restaurants on 9th Street NW, in Shaw.

“We were part of the ribbon-cutting with Baby Wale, which is Tom Power’s restaurant, next door to his own Corduroy restaurant, and then Mandalay restaurant, which is owned by Aung [Myint] up the street,” says Sherman Outhuok, who co-owns Thally, just east of Naylor Court.

“So the mayor and several council members came through in one day and did all three of us!”

Three restaurant ribbon-cuttings in one day may sound like a lot, but in Shaw — especially around 9th Street — lately it isn’t all that surprising. In the past few years, we’ve seen the openings of Rogue 24, Seasonal Pantry, SUNdeVICH, Table — not to mention Thally, Baby Wale and Mandalay.

“And there’s another 10 or 12 restaurants that are planned for somewhere within Shaw over the next year,” says Rebecca Cooper, the restaurant and retail reporter for the Washington Business Journal.

“I think part of [the reason] is that as other areas that have finished their redevelopment become more expensive, the storefronts here become more affordable. Also there’s a ton of residential development being built here, so that makes the neighborhood more attractive to the restaurants.”

The downside, Cooper says, is that an influx of the new often brings a displacement of the old.

“The neighborhood was probably before not serving the same clientele as it will when these newer, nicer apartments and whatnot open up,” she says.

And as Sherman Outhuok points out, there’s quite a lot of “whatnot” going on around 9th Street right about now – including right across the street.

“The church and the rehabilitation center is [sic] under development right now, so I’m assuming that building will be torn down and the façade still used, but that’ll be done,” he says.

“The gas station I know is for sale as well, right across the street. A lot of spaces that I think are vacant are being taken over – like Longview Gallery, the space next door was available, they moved over into that. There’s a lot of development right down the street next to Corduroy across from the Convention Center that is definitely being sold or being developed right now as we speak.”

And someone with a front-row view of all that development is chef Tom Power, who owns Corduroy, and now Baby Wale, which he named for a very particular type of Corduroy.

“Baby wale is the smallest weave of corduroy,” Power explains. “Each ridge on the corduroy is a ‘wale.’ So ‘baby wale’ is like a small corduroy.”

Power bought the building for Corduroy in 2006. After some serious renovations, he opened two years later. But in 2006, he says, there weren’t very many eateries around.

“We were kind of the pioneers here,” he recounts. “There was Vegetate up the street; that’s since closed. I guess Queen of Sheba was up there, Azi’s Café was there. And people thought we were a little bit crazy. People thought, ‘Oh, this is a shaky neighborhood. What are we doing up here?’”

What they were doing, it turns out, was looking ahead.

“I always liked the area,” Power says. “And I knew that Marriott had bought a lot of property over here in 2003. So I knew that the big hotel development was coming. And I knew that the old convention center site was going to be redone. And Chinatown was booming. So it seemed like it would just move this way.”

And, much to his delight, he says, “it is definitely moving that way. The hotel is almost finished, the O City Market is coming out, the City Vista is really going to connect us with downtown, I think.”

In fact, says Rebecca Cooper, the Marriott Marquis is nearly complete, and two other hotels near the Convention Center are on their way. “I would imagine that would also bring more people up this way toward Thally and the other restaurants that are going to open,” she says, “because they’re going to be looking for a place to eat.”

And that, says Sherman Outhuok, is great news for him.

“It is good for us,” he says. “We haven’t opened for lunch yet; we don’t feel the neighborhood is ready for a Monday-through-Friday lunch spot. But maybe in a year or so, when the hotels are finished and there’s more people in the neighborhood during the day for conventions, then the restaurant could sustain a lunch Monday through Friday.”

But even as Sherman Outhuok and his 9th Street colleagues look toward the future, Outhuok says that working here, in this historic neighborhood, he can’t help but pay homage to the past. On Thally’s walls are images and signs from historic spots in Shaw – including one in Naylor Court that dates back to 1883, and helped give the eatery its name.

“The carriage house in the back was called Tally Ho. My daughter’s name is Thalia. I call her Tally for short, so we added the H to Tally and just called the restaurant Thally.”

It’s his way of holding on to a bit of the old Shaw, on this rapidly-changing street, in this rapidly-changing neighborhood that some say — culinarily speaking — is quickly becoming the toast of the town.

[Music: "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House" by Cab Calloway & His Orchestra from Jazz Masters: The Jumpin' Jive]

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