Housing Complex

Big Chair Coffee—Anacostia’s First Stand-Alone Coffee Shop That Anyone Can Remember—Opened Today

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People craving a cup of joe in Anacostia can finally look further than their own kitchens and office coffee machines. Big Chair Coffee 'N Grill—located on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave—opened this morning for business.

The shop has been a long time coming—forever, really: no one can remember a stand-alone, sit-down coffee place in Ward 7 and 8 in recent history. (There is apparently a Starbucks in the Safeway on Naylor Road.)

Owner Ayehubizu Yimenu began paying rent on the storefront two and a half years ago.  For years, Yimenu served as a nurse at Birney Elementary School further up MLK Jr. Ave., and noticed the dearth of decent food options in the area.

In late 2008, local ANC meeting attendees first heard about Big Chair. Blog chatter about the opening ramped up this summer.

"This morning, we couldn't believe it," said Yimenu's brother Bantamlak Yimenu. He came in at 8 a.m. to a packed house of 10 to 15 people. The downstairs of the shop is small—that's all it would take to fill the space.

With the D.C. Taxicab Commission, the southeast branch of the Superior Court of D.C.'s Family Court and the Department of Housing and Community Development all located in the area, there's a natural customer base for Big Chair. Bantamlak Yimenu says the shop will need to take in $15,000 to $20,000 a month to survive.

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The shop has Java brand coffees, prepared with sophisticated machinery blending in a little local D.C. coffee lore all on its own. According to DCist, "the drinks are made on the La Marzocco espresso machine that used to be the engine behind Murky Coffee. (Big Chair won it at a tax auction.)" Big Chair is also serving an assortment of burgers, french fries—red and peppery with Cajun-like spice—buffalo wings and chicken fingers.

When I visited Big Chair between 2:30-3:30 p.m. today, I watched the afternoon traffic swell again. 2:30 traffic: three or four people 3:30 traffic: About a dozen.

Anthony Muhammad, ANC Chair for 8A, sat toward the end of the bar eating a veggie burger and fries. For over a year, his constituents have been asking about Big Chair: "When is it going to open? What kind of coffee are you going to have? Is it going to be better than Starbucks?" he relays.

I asked the obligatory "What does it all mean?" question: What does this opening signify about growth east of the river?

"It signifies that people don't have to go across the bridge for a cup of coffee," said Muhammad.

Surely, a point no one can argue.

  • http://www.anacostianow.blogspot.com DG-rad

    great article - thanks

  • http://ww The Advoc8te

    Agreed. Great article! We are all so very excited about this new establishment. Hopefully this will encourage more small businesses to open in River East/East of the River. We have a lot of needs.

  • Adrian

    What kind of coffee do they use and is there wifi? Thanks

  • http://www.congressheightsontherise.com The Advoc8te

    They have wifi!

  • Bini

    Great. Many of you may not know that coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia and there are more coffee joints in Addis Ababa than in Rome and anyone who has drunk Ethiopian coffee will appreciate the sophistication and taste. I am happy this Ethiopian couple made a smart business move by opening a coffee place in Anacostia. Anacostia is the future of DC, great potential there.

    Enjoy great coffee with Ethiopian hospitality at no extra charge

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  • Ron

    They have WiFi, but it is dial-up. High-speed internet has not made it across the river yet.

  • http://www.congressheightsontherise.com The Advoc8te

    Ron are you sure? I was there today and used their wifi and I don't think it was a dial up. In fact I am pretty sure it wasn't.

  • Jess

    OK, who has dial-up anymore? I doubt it's dial up, but either way, I am super happy they opened and that it's safe. Lots of cops frequent/hang there. Owner seemed to hint that it may stay open longer in the future with the customer base at MPD. Great people and coffee--this small coffee house gives me hope about my own neighborhood in Congress Heights! Let's come together and help them succeed!

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    It agree, this magnificent idea is necessary just by the way

  • http://www.smartkitchenshop.com Shaquana Hamstra

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  • Perry Payne

    come on city paper - do some more research - there were coffee shops in this area before this place - history didn't begin in 1990

  • wen4hu

    have to notice how quickly they went for liquor license.

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