When Sandlot Southeast comes out of winter hibernation next month, the shipping container bar and events space that rocks to a Go-Go beat in Navy Yard will host a rotating group of chefs, caterers, and food truck operators representing Black-owned businesses.
Under a new social equity program sponsored by Uber Eats, Sandlot Southeast (71 Potomac Avenue SE) will grant temporary, rent-free access to two kitchens — a fully equipped food truck outside its lot and a 600-square-foot catering setup with an indoor dining area inside the Maren DC building — to chefs picked by a selection committee. Residencies will last Thursday through Sunday, with a community service day on Mondays. The businesses will keep all of their proceeds, and Uber Eats will market them on its platform. Applicants can register here.
Uber Eats, a major player in the rise of third-party delivery apps that have come under fire for hitting restaurants with hefty commissions, is funding the program from its April 1 start date through the end of 2021.
Sandlot Southeast co-founder Ian Callender, who owns event design firm Suite Nation and sits on D.C.’s Commission on Nightlife and Culture, says the aim of the program is to increase exposure for Black chefs in a densely populated area where they’re underrepresented. Sandlot started in Southwest as an improvised outdoor space for Go-Go shows, and Callender has been open about his goal to to sustain the nightlife culture that developers rooted out of D.C.’s southern quadrants.
The desirable stretch of Southwest to Southeast that sits below I-395 and I-695 and comprises the Wharf development, up-and-coming Buzzard Point, and Navy Yard contains a small number of Black-owned bars and restaurants. That includes SW Soda Pop Shop, Somewhere cafe, Mexican restaurant Agua 301, and Sandlot Southeast.
Located on the Anacostia River, Navy Yard has seen a huge influx in high-rise buildings. The neighborhood can expect a summer boost from the return of a regularly scheduled Major League Baseball season — and a likely return of attendance in some fashion — at National Park.
“People really want to support local ... and they really want to support people who want to make an impact and do good work,” Callender says. “I think we want to be able to get to that equitable opportunity. [We’re] really seeing where Black folks are able to have a seat at the table.”
The idea, Callender says, is for each Black-owned food businesses to bring a limited menu to show off its strengths.
“We’re saying, ‘What’s your No. 1 item?’” he says. “And let’s introduce this item to a new market that may or may not be familiar with your brand.”
Sandlot Southeast and Uber Eats have partnered with the EatOkra app, a platform that identifies Black-owned restaurants in multiple cities, and retail consulting firm &Access. EatOkra already sent out an alert to registered businesses in D.C., Northern Virginia, and Maryland. EatOkra and Uber Eats have already partnered on a program to build streetside dining spaces for Black-owned restaurants in New York City.
Callender says Sandlot Southeast already has 14 participants signed up. That list includes Puddin’, the Cajun and Creole comfort food vendor with a food truck, a food hall stall, and a farmers market presence; Silver Spring Wings; seafood burger bar Fish Scale; and DCity Smokehouse.
The selection committee for program includes D.C. “nightlife mayor” Shawn Townshend; Feed the Malik blogger Anela Malik; Kathy Hollinger, CEO of Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington; chef Rock Harper of Queen Mother’s; chef Jerome Grant of Jackie and Dacha, and &Access founder Bobby Boone. The registration process contains a verification process that ensures vendors have all the necessary permits and allows them to identify as majority woman-owned or veteran-owned as well. The goal is to pick a mix of established operators and up-and-comers.
“We’re really looking at this as an incubating program to provide educational tools and mentorship,” Callender says.
According to Callender, the logistics of the program are still being sorted out, but Uber Eats will at least provide discount codes for Sandlot attendees. Uber Eats waived delivery fees from Black-owned restaurants in D.C. last year. Callender says he’s hoping the company will do the same for participating restaurants at their home locations.
Throughout the residencies, Sandlot Southeast will continue to sell the cold-pressed juice cocktails it developed with Turning Natural when the project debuted in the fall. Grant and Jackie will provide a food menu on days the residencies are dormant.
The Sandlot program, which partners with developers to repurpose empty spaces, typically before a large construction project begins, also has plans to add outdoor bars in Georgetown and Tysons Corner. Sandlot Northwest, set in a Pennsylvania Avenue NW lot near the Four Seasons, was supposed to be part of the Uber Eats sponsorship, but that project has been delayed because the Old Georgetown Board has concerns about plopping shipping container bars in the historic district.