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.

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