When Ben’s Chili Bowl opened in 1958, it became a safe haven for civil rights activists to gather and grab a meal.
From donating food to the March on Washington in 1963 to staying open after curfew to provide food and shelter after the riots of 1968, Ben’s Chili Bowl has played a role in history over its 62 years of business. Co-owner Vida Ali said the restaurant at 1213 U St. NW has provided a space for people to grieve in the aftermath of major historic events, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, by staying open after hours.
“It was part of the community for activists as well as first responders and a place where locals could meet and grieve,” Ali said.
During Black History Month, pay a visit to black-owned businesses like Ben’s Chili Bowl around the District. Here’s a rundown of places to grab food, admire art and appreciate black history.
A D.C. mother and her 8-year-old son launched a kid-friendly deodorant line, Play Pits, from their kitchen in 2018. Chantel Powell started making the all-natural, toxin-free deodorant for her then 6-year-old son Kameron as a safer alternative to store-bought brands.
Play Pits launched online, in trade shows and at pop-ups in 2018 with three scents: “Sunshine,” “Suga” and “Happy.” Since then, two adult scents “King” and “Queen” have been released. Powell said they make the deodorants with baking soda, coconut oil, cornstarch and other essential oils to differentiate the scents. The company is still relatively small with all of the production and packaging taking place in their family home in D.C., Powell said.
As an African-American entrepreneur in D.C., Chantel said she finds support with a community of other small businesses through collaborations with her friend’s local shop Spice Suite and Maryland beauty and wellness company Zen in a Jar.
“I surround myself with women that are entrepreneurs to learn from their experiences,” she said.
Play Pits, shop online.
Milk and Honey Cafe
Milk and Honey Cafe has locations in Bowie and College Park, Md. and Atlanta, Ga., and Owners Monique Rose and Sammy Davis opened their newest D.C. location in October 2018. Located at 5832 Georgia Ave. NW, this D.C. location offers all of the soul food favorites in addition to a full-service bar boasting more than 25 signature cocktails. The Bar @ Milk and Honey serves Southern and Caribbean-style dishes like shrimp and grits, po’boys, blackened seafood and jerk style lamb.
Milk and Honey Cafe, 5832 Georgia Ave. NW, open Tuesday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nu Vegan Cafe
Nu Vegan Cafe is a family-owned health food chain with four locations in the DMV area, the closest to campus located at 2397 6th St. NW. With a focus on making comfort food vegan, its menu is full of recognizable items like vegan fried chicken ($8.50), vegan crab cakes ($9.50) and a vegan steak & cheese sub ($8.50). It also sports a full fresh-pressed juice and smoothie bar.
Nu Vegan Cafe, 2928 Georgia Ave. and 2397 6th St. NW, open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m., to 10 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Florida Avenue Grill
Florida Avenue Grill at 1100 Florida Ave. NW was opened in 1944 by husband and wife Lacey and Bertha Wilson. Their son Lacey Wilson Jr. took over the restaurant in 1970 and owned the joint until 2005 when he sold it to local entrepreneur Imar Hutchins. The grill has been a steady presence in the Shaw and Columbia Heights neighborhood, offering an all-day breakfast with items like hotcakes, buttermilk biscuits, and fish and grits. From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday it also serves “soulfully cooked home-style dinners” with everything from BBQ spare ribs to pig’s feet.
Florida Avenue Grill, 1100 Florida Ave. NW, open Tuesday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Horace and Dickie’s Seafood
Horace and Dickie’s began as a quick stop for fried seafood carryout on 12th Street but has since moved to a small storefront in the Takoma neighborhood at 6912 4th St. NW. The restaurant also has a food truck that travels around D.C. Their menu features seafood salads, gumbo and a variety of fried seafood, crab cakes and southern sides like candied yams and hush puppies.
Horace and Dickie’s Seafood, 6912 4th St. NW, open Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday 12:30 to 9 p.m.
Sankofa Video, Books & Cafe
Sankofa, which is a hybrid bookstore and cafe, was opened in 1998 by Shirikiana and Haile Gerima at 2714 Georgia Ave. NW. It is named after their 1993 film Sankofa about a model on a photo shoot in Ghana who is transported into the past by a local mystic. Sankofa’s website says the Sankofa bird symbolizes retrospective thinking, adding that the cafe is a space for “thoughtful consideration” of African culture through books, videos and community programming. Sankofa’s cafe menu offers breakfast, pizza, sandwiches, salad, coffee and smoothies.
Sankofa Video, Books & Cafe, 2714 Georgia Ave. NW, open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.