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Busboys and Poets

Busboys and Poets is a restaurant, bookstore, lounge and theater currently serving the Washington, DC area. Founded by Andy Shallal, a 2014 candidate in the Washington mayoral race, the company has expanded rapidly: Since opening its first location in 2005 on 14th Street in Washington, the restaurant has expanded to six locations throughout the DC metro area, with a seventh currently on the way.

Even before joining ASBC, Busboys and Poets—like many other ASBC members—was heavily involved in sustainability issues. After starting up, Shallal explained, Busboys joined a group of businesses working through Think Local First DC - itself an ASBC organizational member - to take advantage of options available to DC- and Maryland-based utility customers to decide what type of electricity they used. Electing to use clean energy rather than fossil fuel, Busboys chose to receive wind power from Clean Currents. Initially, 26 businesses elected to take advantage of this option; since then, the number has risen significantly.

Another sustainability issue was using recycled paper products for carryout orders. As Shallal recalled, restaurants that wished to use recycled products regularly had to pre-order them, and wait as long as week to receive them. Busboys was able to work with purveyors, including some of the larger ones in the region, to have these products available for customers on a regular basis. Through their purchasing power, Busboys actually encouraged those purveyors to always carry recycled products and make them readily available to interested businesses.

That early focus on sustainability helped make joining ASBC an easy choice. Shallal explained, “The words sustainable and business go hand in hand. It seems it makes sense to have sustainability in business at all levels.” Shallal added that discussion around the triple bottom line - people, planet, and profit - had been going on for some time, but having an organization that helped bring those out in a larger way was an important factor in deciding to join.

The other major benefit for Busboys and Poets has been being able to work with like-minded businesses that are also concerned about sustainability. “Businesses like to see what others are doing, and they jump on board. To see a lot of businesses doing the same thing” is great, added Shallal.

Busboys and Poets have been particularly active members since they joined. In addition to supporting issues like clean energy, 100% recycled materials, and environmentally friendly products, Busboys and Poets has also been particularly active in promoting more sustainable employment practices, introducing sick leave for all employees, getting more involved in family leave, and supporting minimum wage increases (even instituting a $10.50 minimum wage for all employees).

Busboys and Poets also hosted a reception during ASBC’s Third Annual Business Summit in 2014, during which Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) addressed the assembled business leaders.

As their website explains, Busboys and Poets takes its name from Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy in the 1920s prior to being recognized as a poet. It’s fitting, then, that Busboys and Poets is an art space as well as a restaurant, hosting visual and performance art as well as bookstores. Even that, though, is designed to have a wider impact - as the site explains, “we believe that by creating such a space we can inspire social change and begin to transform our community and the world.”