Take a walk down Columbia Heights’ 11th Street corridor, and you’ll find the landscape has changed. Instead of parked cars, small groups of diners are gathered at tables and lounge spaces in the parking lane in front of Makan and Queen’s English. About a mile west, along Mount Pleasant St NW, is a very similar scene. Thanks to Mayor Bowser’s phased reopening plan, main streets all around the city have embraced the opportunity to transform parts of the road into “streateries.”
“We felt the streatery was the best platform to safely provide a dining experience,” says Mount Pleasant restaurant, Mola’s, general manager, Micky. “We are cautiously optimistic during this time – our safety and our guests’ safety along with operation logistics remain paramount.” Mola’s guests had reached out during the city mandated quarantine expressing their desire to support the restaurant. In an effort to retain jobs and continue providing excellent food and drink, Mola transformed into a walk-up market and delivery grocery service, while continuing to offer take-out menu options. “We absolutely could not have been open without the amazing and genuine support from the Mount Pleasant and local community,” says Micky.
“Although restaurants are allowed to serve inside under phase two, many don’t feel comfortable and want to protect their staff and clients,” says Carolina Buitrago of District Bridges. “These streateries are a great opportunity for restaurants to be able to serve outside as well as bring back some employees.” The process to open the streateries in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant was in the works for several weeks ahead of their openings. On behalf of the restaurants, the city’s main streets first had to apply to take over the parking lanes and convert them into outdoor dining areas. “The application process includes registering the businesses for outdoor seating using a Google Form and completing an application in Transportation Online Permitting System (TOPS),” says Carolina. In addition to submitting site plans, each restaurant was required to provide proof of insurance that met the Office of Risk Management’s requirements. “[The requirements] were decreased this week as the cost was too high for the restaurants and it was a barrier for businesses wanting to participate,” says Carolina.
After the applications were submitted, they were then approved by various DC agencies, including DDOT and ABRA. “Since this was a new process, District Bridges worked closely with DDOT staff to get the streateries’ applications processed and approved,” says Carolina. Micky, of Mola, expressed gratitude for their assistance, “We are extremely grateful for the opportunity District Bridges has secured for us to operate as a streatery and give this a go!”
At Makan in Columbia Heights, the feeling is mutual. “It’s a great feeling to bring back some of the staff that we had off,” says Kendrick, one of the owners of Makan. After the difficult decision of temporarily laying off his staff just one week after their opening, he’s excited to be reopened. “Our situation is a bit special in that we never truly had a chance to get the business off the ground,” says Kendrick. “We had our grand opening a week before the shut down so, for all intents and purposes, this is our official opening.”
The Malaysian restaurant, which took over the old Meridian Pint space, now boasts an expanded patio with dozens of tables spaced 6’ apart. Right next door, Queen’s English has set up a lounge-like area with outdoor couches, roped off from traffic by a braided red rope. Between the two restaurants, there’s plenty of space for small groups of diners to indulge in a little food and drink al fresco. “We’ve been blessed to operate in a great neighborhood and appreciate everyone’s support during these challenging times. Without them, we would not have been able to weather the pandemic,” says Kendrick. “Even though we are only operating at partial capacity, we will continuously strive to put out the best product possible and aim to be a great addition to a great neighborhood.”
Although the current end date for the streateries is July 24th, District Bridges expects them to get extended pending Mayor Bowser’s extension of the public health emergency. “We hope [they] will continue to bring a sense of joy to the neighborhood while providing a safe space to eat,” says Carolina. In addition to Queen’s English, Makan, and Mola, Purple Patch in Mount Pleasant is also offering outdoor dining through the streatery. District Bridges has also applied on behalf of Maydan on the U Street Main Street, and Rice and Pearl Dive on Logan Circle’s main street. Carolina says that the public reception has been overwhelmingly positive, and encourages the community to take advantage of them while they can, “The weather is perfect to eat outside so make sure to stop by one of the streateries!”