Former Cone E. Island owner finds new home at nearby restaurant

Media Credit: Garrett Mills | Hatchet Photographer
Poppabox serves Cone E. Island ice cream under the Poppabox name. Cone E. Island closed its doors this year after 27 years on campus.

The ice cream that Cone E. Island served Foggy Bottom for 27 years has found a new neighborhood home.

Blocks away from his historic location in The Shops at 2000 Penn, former Cone E. Island owner Jun Esmilla has partnered with Matthew Kim, a decade-long restaurant industry veteran, in a Korean takeout and ice cream shop, Poppabox, at 1928 I St. NW. It’s the same home-churned ice cream and hand-dipped cones, and Esmilla wants students to know they’re back.

“So far, so good. Everything I got here at Poppabox is the same thing as Cone E. Island,” Esmilla said. “Everything. The ice cream has never changed, only a smaller selection.”

Cone E. Island closed its University-owned 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. shop last March with slumping sales and mounting debt. A month later, Esmilla submitted a proposal to move into the new Science and Engineering Hall, which will open for classes in 2015. The University rejected his bid in July.

“I miss the students. They keep me going,” Esmilla said, adding that he was offered a location in Maryland, but he wanted “to be here with GW students.”

While his application to the University was processing in May, Esmilla met Kim by chance and decided to partner with him. Kim had opened Poppabox in March, and he offered Esmilla the opportunity to sell Cone E. Island’s famous ice cream under Poppabox’s name.

The florescent wall signs of the former Cone E. Island shop have been traded for a small window on the side of the Poppabox restaurant.

Poppabox serves breakfast from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., with sweet and savory waffles. Items from the lunch menu are served until 9 p.m., including “poppaboxes,” a boxed lunch that consists of a choice of meat or tofu, cooked vegetables, rice and three California rolls.

Kim said his Korean-style eatery gives students a cheaper dining option, and Poppabox is now accepting GWorld. Meals and prices range from breakfast options like $3.25 waffles with sugar, butter and cinnamon to a $13.95 shrimp teriyaki poppabox deluxe.

“I was a student once, so our prices aren’t that high,” Kim said. “We are trying to make our food accessible to students.”

Esmilla said he is strictly in charge of the ice cream options, while Kim manages the Asian fare.

“We are co-owners, he is my partner,” Esmilla said. “It’s different now because at Cone E. Island I owned my own business and I could do everything I could for the students I served.”

Esmilla said while Poppabox has given him another opportunity to work in Foggy Bottom, he will always look for ways to get back on campus and closer to students. He added that next year, he will made a bid for a spot in District House, GW’s $130 million residence hall that will house sophomores and juniors and include retail on the ground floor.

“Things happen for a reason, so we’ll see how it goes. But I’m still looking, and hopefully I’ll try one more time to move back on campus to [District House] next year,” Esmilla said.

Because of his smaller role at the restaurant, Esmilla said he doesn’t have the opportunity to hire GW students like he did when he owned Cone E. Island, but he hopes that if he returns to campus, he will be able to go back to offering students jobs with flexible schedules.

“I feel like GW is my home,” said Esmilla. “I respect education, I tell all my kids, you do good in school, and then whenever times you are available to work, you work.”

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