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‘Charity isn’t political’: Washington restaurants giving away inauguration weekend profits

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Tryst cafe and bar in Washington, D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood on January 19, 2017.

By Ese Olumhense in Washington, D.C.

With its sultry uptempo soul music, high shadows cast by low lamps, and velvet couches, Tryst, a trendy cafe and bar in Washington, D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, is magnetic. A large crowd, even on weeknights, can be found there, as smiling servers weave through the pack, flitting from table to table. Almost every seat at the bar was full on Friday night.

It’s hard to imagine the hotspot any busier, but Saturday, the night of Donald Trump’s inauguration, it will be. This weekend, thousands have flood the nation’s capital to witness—or protest—the big event. And they will need to eat.

Presidential inauguration weekends are among the most profitable weekends for Tryst’s management, which owns four other area eaterys. According to David Fritlzer, food and beverage director for the Tryst Trading Company, during the 2008 inauguration weekend the group raked in more money than it typically makes in a month.

“For us it’s always busy,” said Fritlzer of inauguration weekends. “It can be a little crazy.”

But this year the company has chosen to give up part of the big weekend’s profits, opting instead to donate a portion of its proceeds to Mary’s Center, a Washington nonprofit that provides health, social, and educational services to low-income District residents.

And they aren’t the only ones in the giving spirit, as more than 100 other Washington area restaurants, cafes, bars, salons, and other attractions have signed on to the All In Service D.C. campaign, a fundraising initiative running January 20-22 at various Washington establishments, who have all pledged to donate a portion of this weekend’s profits to community and social service organizations.

The action isn’t a protest or statement, but a way to celebrate and support community organizations. It began in late December, when a pair of restaurant professionals decided to begin building a coalition of partners in the hospitality industry to conceive a community service event.

“Charity isn’t political,” said Sarah Massey, spokesperson for All in Service D.C. “This is envisioned as a service project. The service industry is a hospitable industry.”

For most participating organizations, signing up was personal. Mary’s Center was a natural choice for Tryst, as many of its Latin American employees received critical support and assistance through the organization. It’s headquarters sits around the corner on Ontario Road.

DGS Delicatessen in Dupont Circle was opened by cousins Nick and David Wiseman to honor their grandfather, who immigrated from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. They chose to donate from their weekend’s profits to Ayuda, which provides legal services for immigrants. Aveda Spa and Salon, in Logan Circle, will donate to The D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community’s HIV working group, in memory of a colleague who died last year. Their late colleague was part of the center’s activism efforts. And Escape Lounge, on H Street, will donate profits to Words, Beats & Life, which runs an acclaimed hip-hop academy for area youth.

“I see this as a great opportunity for young people to realize how powerful their voices are,” said founder and owner Ayanna Smith.

The event is coming at a key moment for Washington restaurants. In August, Bon Appétit magazine named Washington “Restaurant City of the Year.” Then in October, a dozen of the district’s restaurants were awarded Michelin stars for culinary excellence, earning the city its own “Red Guide.” The French company is selective in awarding these honors, and only three other American cities—New York, San Francisco, and Chicago—have their own guide.

The sign and front entrance of Comet Ping Pong pizzeria are seen on Connecticut Avenue December 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But for some, this excitement and optimism is tempered with caution. After a gunman fired shots inside Comet, a popular Washington pizzeria, in December after reading a bogus news story about child trafficking occurring there, businesses are on high alert—particularly during such a politically charged inauguration weekend.

Fritzler, who regularly brought his children to Comet before the shooting, believes that it’s important for businesses to remain positive and focus on hospitality.

“For us, it is easy to kind of get lost in all the loudness of what’s happening nationally and internationally, and the significance of that,” Fritzler said. “But we really love D.C., and want to focus on D.C., and show our best face. No matter what’s going on politically: come here, there are good people in D.C.”