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D.C.’s Bar-Based Relief Center for Restaurant Workers Expands Into Northern Virginia

Incoming Crystal City cafe the Freshman partners with Hook Hall Helps to gather food and home goods

On Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., The Freshman’s operable windows will open as a takeout counter for relief kits.
The Freshman/official photo

Hook Hall, the Park View bar and events space that flipped into a relief center for restaurant workers shortly after the coronavirus crisis began last March, is expanding its do-good operation across state lines to serve Northern Virginia employees in need.

Nick Freshman has partnered with Hook Hall owner Anna Valero to set up another relief center distributing meals and home essentials out of the Freshman, the incoming all-day cafe in Crystal City he plans to open in the spring. The fully finished cafe (2011 Crystal Drive) near Amazon’s incoming HQ2 was about to open when the pandemic hit. Access to blue and yellow Metro lines will help more workers access supplies.

“I think a NoVa location is critical to support the ‘heartbeat’ of hospitality workers [who live in] Alexandria and South Arlington,” says Freshman. “It made a lot of sense — I have this fully built out restaurant that’s all dressed up but nothing to do with it.”

Starting January 14, the Freshman will serve as a pickup point for hospitality employees every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. In Park View, Hook Hall will run its Monday pickups from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Preregistering online is encouraged to keep prepared kits in line with demand.

Freshman — a partner at Arlington bar Spider Kelly’s and the principal at Mothersauce Partners (The Eleanor, Takoma Beverage Company, Thompson Italian) — and Valero foresee a need for months to come. D.C. has shut down indoor dining through at least January 14 (and likely longer because of the public safety threat surrounding inauguration). Virginia continues to allow indoor and outdoor dining with social distancing protocols in place.

“You can be employed right now and still be food insecure. There’s additional restrictions and a lot of hours have been cut back,” Valero says. “The reality is we’re looking at summer before things reopen.”

A sea of prepared meals for Hook Hall’s relief center.
Hook Hall/official photo

Days after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered an indoor dining ban in March, Hook Hall (3400 Georgia Avenue NW) started distributing meals and care packages to a crowd facing reduced or revoked schedules and inconsistent pay. Distribution ran in Park View through June, right before its 7,000-square-foot patio reopened with a tropical new look. The huge space turned into a viking-themed wintertime retreat, then began meal kit distribution again in December.

To fund the care packages, the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington set up a Workers’ Relief Fund. Valero says pausing the effort during the summer was a deliberate move to keep cash in the coffers for the hash season ahead.

“Knowing that summer was going to be more easily tolerable for restaurants with outdoor seating, we knew it was going to be a cold and hard winter. In restarting, it was [about] how to provide support to meet workers where they are,” she says.

Each pickup day includes prepared meal kits and supplies that should last recipients three to four days. Kits include “all different kinds of meals, so you’re not eating pasta for three days,” Valero says. In addition to nonperishable goods like canned soups, granola bars, and cookies and chocolate to curb “3 p.m. sugar” fixes, kits include tampons, toilet paper, and other everyday essentials.

“The hardest days are between here and July. So many of us just sitting here — to just be able to do something that would serve my own colleagues, I jumped at it,” Freshman says.

The Freshman has the capacity to provide restaurant workers and their families a few hundred meals kits per week, he says. An opening is scheduled for March or April — a year later than planned.

“ I have a phenomenal landlord,” Freshman says. “JBG has been great in truly believing it’s a mutual relationship. Many aren’t seeing the big picture.”

A high-tech system at the cafe allows its large windows along the facade to slide open, creating an instantly accessible storefront for easy walkup and pickup. There’s no food prep inside, just acting as a site to receive meals and supplies and distribute.

“Who would have thought this was our 2021 ‘grand opening?’” Freshman says. “In many ways this just sums up the moment where we’re at: it’s cold, we’re closed, and people are hungry and we can fix it.”

Freshman’s next big 2021 opening is startup brewery City-State, which is hiring and expects to start pouring beers in Brookland by late spring.

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