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With a New Cafe on Tap, the Renovated MLK Library Will Let Readers Eat on the Roof

At Marianne’s, José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup will help DC Central Kitchen provide on-the-job training to cooks and baristas

Rendering of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
Photo: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

Whenever D.C.’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library can properly show off a recently completed $211 million renovation, readers won’t find signs that stay “No eating in the library.” Upgrades to the modernist landmark downtown include a dance studio, a slide in the children’s reading room, and a cafe selling pastries, salads, and sandwiches that can be eaten throughout the space, including in a rooftop garden.

Nonprofit job creator DC Central Kitchen will send graduates and on-the-job trainees to Marianne’s. The new cafe will take up residence on the first floor of the revamped facility “when it is possible for people to come in and enjoy the full experience in the space,” DCCK chief development officer Alex Moore says. The opening date for the cafe is up in the air due to the public health crisis, but the library opened in early November for book pickups. Marianne’s has no plans to get into the takeout business just yet.

Chef José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup is consulting on the menu and design, and Occasions Caterers will handle catering for the library’s event spaces. The library restaurant will be the second job training cafe for DC Central Kitchen, following the opening of DC Central Kitchen Cafe on the grounds of THEARC in Ward 8 in 2019.

“We are creating something new: library food,” chef and general manager Terrell Danley says. “We’re constantly thinking and rethinking, how will this play out in the library setting?” He’s thinking about which foods won’t damage the books.

“Do we offer potato chips?” Danley asks. “I don’t know.”

Marianne’s by DC Central Kitchen will be located on the ground floor of the library
Photo: Anna Meyer

The preliminary menu for breakfast and lunch at Marianne’s will include grab-and-go subs and sandwiches like roasted chicken and cheddar cheese on sweet Hawaiian bread. There will be pastries such as cinnamon rolls, açaí and chia seed parfaits, and kombucha.

Made-to-order items will include hot breakfast sandwiches on bagels and croissants, salads, and spanakopita sandwiches on ciabatta. Expect to find Counter Culture Coffee, too. DCCK trainees will be able to acquire barista certifications.

“As the library becomes more comfortable with us being there, José [Andres] and his team will work with us to push the envelope more,” Danley says of the partnership with ThinkFoodGroup. Danley is hoping to roll out a menu of bowls, for example, including an option with black-eyed peas and roasted sweet potatoes.

The cafe will have indoor and outdoor seating
Photo: Anna Meyer

The name of the cafe honors DC Central Kitchen chef Marianne Ali, who earned a White House Champion of Change Award for her work leading DCCK’s job training program over two decades.

“She stood for showing respect for every single person no matter where they were in their life,” Moore says. “She saw that potential and dignity and worth in everybody and we are trying to do that with every single interaction that we have with customers in the space.”

Moore expects the cafe to employ 25 DC Central Kitchen workers, who are all guaranteed full-time hours with fair advance scheduling, health insurance, and a retirement savings match program. It will also be the site of the nonprofit’s new 2,000-hour, year-long apprenticeship curriculum.

“For 31 years, D.C. Central Kitchen has provided workforce development training in the hospitality sector, really helping people to gain that first experience, that first job, that first landing spot in a kitchen,” Moore says. “What we know is creating pathways to the middle class, creating generational change, requires moving to that next level, moving beyond the entry level and up and into management opportunities.”

Moore says the opportunity for trainees to learn from ThinkFoodGroup and Occasions Caterers staff can help them accelerate their growth and improve their future job prospects.

“They are working toward a real credential in food and beverage management that is developed in collaboration with employers,” he says.