Busboys and Poets is continuing its expansion into Maryland with a new location in Baltimore, according to owner Andy Shallal.
As first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal, the branch will sit near Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus in a storefront previously occupied by Red Star Charles Village. The restaurant is set to open in March or April.
Shallal, an Iraqi American activist and businessman, opened the first Busboys and Poets in Washington in 2005 at 14th and V streets. The company today has seven locations in operation; the ones in Baltimore and Columbia will make nine.
Shallal called Baltimore “a natural progression” for the Washington-based chain, which has another new branch coming to Columbia’s Merriweather District this summer. Many Baltimore customers currently go to the Busboys in Hyattsville, and interact with the brand on social media.
He added that the demographics and culture of the city are a good fit for his company, named in honor of Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy before gaining fame as a poet. Baltimore “has a quirkiness to it that I think fits what we do,” Shallal said. “I just find it to be an interesting city.” Charles Village, in particular, appealed for its proximity to Hopkins. “We like being near universities,” he said, as many of the customers are students. “If it works out, we will do more.”
Fans of Busboys and Poets in the Washington area can expect to see the same menu and events like poetry readings and book talks at the new location. In addition, movable glass windows will open to plentiful outdoor dining at the restaurant, which can seat up to 200 people in normal circumstances.
Baltimore restaurants are currently closed to on-premises dining; statewide, others are limited to 50% indoor capacity.
While Shallal said his restaurants have been “struggling” amid the pandemic, he added, “We’re floating, but we’re just making it. For now, that’s good enough until we get to the other side of this.”
Shallal said his experiences navigating the coronavirus helped inform his lease negotiations for the property in Charles Village, which is owned by Hopkins.
“COVID has given us a whole new insight into what ‘force majeure’ means,” he said, referring to provisions in contracts that account for unforeseeable circumstances outside of a party’s control. Though he declined to discuss specifics of his lease agreement, he said, “I’m really happy with the deal that we made in Baltimore.”