D.C. bagel shop Call Your Mother announced a series of changes to its business yesterday in an effort to answer criticism that the self-described “Jew-ish” deli has co-opted Black culture while building its following and winning national acclaim.
Both Eater and Bon Appétit have honored the deli with national accolades that have helped fuel a fast expansion from its original location in the gentrifying Park View neighborhood. At the same time, input from residents and employees has forced the company to acknowledge that it profited off of cultural currency it lifted from Black athletes and musicians it featured on its walls and menus. Call Your Mother has taken down a photograph of the rapper Drake, changed the names of bagels that referred to other Black celebrities with ties to Judaism, and pledged further actions to increase diversity in its workforce while supporting its community.
On June 1, the company’s Instagram page posted an image full of repeating lines reading “Black Lives Matter” with a caption pledging $6,000 to the D.C. chapter of Black Lives Matter and Minneapolis-based Visit Lake Street. Like many restaurants attempting to amplify the rising social justice movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody, Call Your Mother faced immediate backlash in the comments.
“This is bullshit,” a user wrote under the handle @kelseywatson. “I HAVE LITERALLY WATCHED YOUR WHITE EMPLOYEES CALL THE POLICE ON A BLACK MAN. I watched your employees try to call in a fucking hit on a black man who was expressing his frustration about how your gentrifying ass bagel shop is contributing to the displacement of the black residents who have occupied that neighbourhood for decades.” The commenter says she had to intervene with white employees not to call the police and says Call Your Mother has “invaded the neighborhood.” She goes on to suggest the company hire a consultant, and lists her Venmo account “for the emotional labour it took me to write this post.”
Park View, a neighborhood along Georgia Avenue NW just north of Howard University, has seen low-income and Black residents displaced over the past two decades. According to Census data, the low-income population in Park View dropped by 11.4 percent from 2000 to 2016, with a neighborhood of 5,078 people losing 1,062 Black residents over that time. The city is moving ahead on demolishing a deteriorating public housing project without developing a suitable replacement. A 2019 study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition showed about 40 percent of Washington’s low-income neighborhoods experienced gentrification from 2000 to 2013, representing the greatest “intensity of gentrification” of any city in the country.
In a “note to the community” posted to the Call Your Mother website yesterday, co-owners Andrew Dana and Daniela Moreira announced actions to show they’ve been listening. That includes “actively training” staff on a new protocol of responding to “safety concerns” to ensure that calling police is “always the last resort.” Dana says the company made changes after meeting with residents, soliciting anonymous feedback from staff, and talking with “people we trust.”
Bagel sandwiches that name-dropped rapper Shyne, R&B superstar Rihanna, and former NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire have all been changed. Now they refer to retirement communities in South Florida, a nod to the pervading “Jew-ish” shtick that ties directly back to Dana’s family.
“The entertainers and athletes that have influenced our menu and decor were chosen as a celebration of the diversity of Judaism,” Call Your Mother’s statement says. “Although it was never our intention, we now understand that these choices were co-opting Black culture and profiting off it, without truly paying homage.”
Dana tells Eater that since June 1, instead of the shop playing music that reflects his preference for hip hop and R&B from the ’90s and early aughts, the playlist is now selected by whatever manager is on duty.
In its note, Call Your Mother also pledged to address a lack of diversity at the management level to better reflect a company where BIPOC (Black, indigenous, or other people of color) workers make up over 68 percent of the staff. Since opening in October 2018, Call Your Mother has worked with nonprofits addressing hunger and supporting undocumented immigrants, but the company says it hasn’t done enough in its own neighborhood. Call Your Mother says it is working on a plan to provide free breakfast for children in Park View. Dana tells Eater that the company has already hired a director of community and health from within the neighborhood to aid efforts to make connections.
“The fact that we didn’t make everybody happy, it was sad and hard,” says Moreira, an Eater Young Gun (’17). “It was good that we got the feedback. It’s good that we made the changes. We’re here to be better.”
Call Your Mother has become well-known for long lines of customers who come from outside the neighborhood to sample its bagels, latkes, and cookies. Across the street, all-day cafe Colony Club has promised to change its name to avoid using what could be seen as a reference to colonialism. The coffee shop was named after a flower store one of the owners’ grandparents ran in the same neighborhood.
Since opening on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Lamont Street NW in October 2018, Call Your Mother has signed a lease in Georgetown, added another location in Capitol Hill, and rolled out a bagel trolley in Bethesda.
Both partners have apologized for the way Call Your Mother presented itself and referenced frustration over their “blind spots.” Dana says the company is committed to change.
“We really truly mean this,” Dana says. “We want to do it. I think we’ll measure success not by people around the city talking about us, but how people on Lamont Street feel about us.”
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