By Robert Devaney and Selma Khenissi
To boost businesses and neighborhoods, there are D.C. government programs like Main Street and Made in D.C. For Georgetown, such programs are most welcome.
But without exaggeration (not to mention modesty), we can proudly declare that Georgetown is both the birthplace of Made in D.C. and the city’s original Main Street. And The Georgetowner newspaper has been here for 63 years, observing the comings and goings of countless enterprises.
All of us know some of the famous names attached to Georgetown, celebrated for its influential citizens, past and present, as well as for people-watching on any given day. Two of its celebrated residents were business innovators associated with technologies that greatly advanced humankind — namely, the telephone and the computer.
Though Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone in Georgetown, soon after, in 1880, he used the money from the Volta Prize, presented by the French Academy, to establish the Volta laboratory in the carriage house of his father’s house at 1527 35th St. NW. In 1887, Bell founded the Volta Bureau at 1537 35th St. NW “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge relating to the deaf.”
Nearby, at 1054 31st St. NW, next to the C&O Canal, one will find a plaque marking the building where Herman Hollerith’s Tabulating Machine Company was located at the turn of the 20th century. Hollerith’s company would later merge with other firms to be renamed International Business Machines, better known as IBM. His
machine sped up the time to compile data for the 1890 U.S. census, saving the feds time and money. Hollerith’s house on 29th Street stands to this day.
Georgetown was founded as a tobacco port, growing into one of the largest on the East Coast (yes, the accompanying slave trade was here, too). It has always been a place of business, but its economic role has evolved over the centuries. Innovation continues to take place here, with an astounding range of enterprises in a compact geographic area — Palantir Technologies and Patisserie Poupon, English Rose Garden and EverFi.
This variety is what the Made in D.C. program, underway since October 2016, seeks to encourage. According to Mekdy Alemayehu of the Department of Small and Local Business Development, Made in D.C. is designed to capture, highlight and promote the intellectual and creative genius of the local maker community, helping to revitalize D.C.’s “vibrant and unique neighborhoods.” With that in mind, the department just approved a Georgetown Main Street for Wisconsin Avenue.
Georgetown is home to hundreds of small businesses, some that have been around for decades and others that started up last year or last month. The following are a few that checked in recently with The Georgetowner, which has written about so many over the years.
Opening on Valentine’s Day in 2008, Georgetown Cupcake will celebrate its 10th anniversary this coming February. Sisters and co-owners Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne commented: “We take pride in baking a best-in- class product and welcoming our customers in our warm and friendly bakery. Since our first day in business, we’ve baked our cupcakes from scratch, on-site daily, and use the very best ingredients — from European style butter to Valrhona cocoa to Madagascar Bourbon vanilla —making for an amazing product.”
Though the bakery made it big — Georgetown Cupcake caught the attention of TLC, which resulted in the TV series “DC Cupcakes” — the goal of the co-owners remains always to “strive to provide exemplary customer service.” The sisters also feel a strong connection to Georgetown: “As sisters, we spent a lot of time together in Georgetown and love the historic charm of the neighborhood. There is something very special about Georgetown.” This is a place where cupcakes seem like more than a dessert.
The timing was fortuitous. This restaurant dates to 1933, when light wines and 3.2 beer — that is, beer with 3.2 percent alcohol content — were legalized after Prohibition. Liquor became legal again in the District in March of 1934, not long after Martin Tavern’s opened its doors.
Cut to the present, and you will see a business that has reached the fourth generation: the current owner is Billy Martin III. The story goes that Billy Martin’s grandfather, who grew up in Georgetown and was a student at Georgetown University, loved the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and N Street and pictured himself in business at that specific location.
Realizing that his professional sports career was over, he worked hard to have his business vision become a reality, right down to the location. The result is a family business that has been around for 84 years and counting.
In addition to the business’s longevity, its reputation has led to stories of grandparents who met there, stories of first dates and of loyal families who have been going for generations. Martin’s Tavern has also attracted the attention of famous people, including John F. Kennedy, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Billy Martin is still waiting for Barack Obama to visit, but Malia Obama did visit with friends during the snowstorm of 2016. You can meet just about anyone in Martin’s (especially when it snows).
Salon Ilo & Day Spa
Cofounders Gary Walker and Terry Bell, both British, opened Salon Ilo in 1979. Walker and Bell moved to the United States from Bermuda because they were sponsored by a salon they were working for at the time. While considering a branch location in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, Walker was walking through Georgetown and saw a very appealing spot for a salon. “I thought, what a great space,” he said.
The duo did their homework and concluded that Georgetown was a better choice than Old Town. Walker and Bell also decided, however, to quit working for that salon and launch their own. They wanted to have a business that represented their own concept and ideas.
Developing their brand, inspired by London’s Bond Street and Paris, not only strengthened their business but helped amp up the formerly sleepy 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue into what is called Book Hill, with a variety of shops offering everything from home decor and clothing to tacos and croissants.
What can you expect from Salon Ilo? It is a salon that is British-trained, dedicated to customer service and focused on the maintenance of its clients’ looks and glamour. “Our work is different from everyone else,” said Walker.
Greg Menna, cofounder and CEO of District Doughnut, believes it is important to reintroduce people to the doughnut. “We hope to introduce you, perhaps for the first time, to a real doughnut, made fresh from scratch with delicious, gourmet ingredients. Whether you are a student from the university, an established resident of the community or a curious tourist, we want you fall in love with doughnuts again,” Menna said.
Food & Wine included the doughnut shop in its America’s Best Doughnuts feature, putting the Salted Dulce de Leche in the spotlight. District Doughnut’s first location was in Barracks Row in Capitol Hill. Taking advantage of an opportunity presented by EastBanc, the store in Cady’s Alley was launched in June of 2016.
District Doughnut has partnered with the Georgetown Business Improvement District; with Artist’s Proof gallery, which shows art on a rotating basis at the Georgetown location; and with Georgetown University, where the newest dining halls offer the bakery’s doughnuts.
Christine Schaefer, executive chef and chief creative officer, is the person who comes up with the ideas for what doughnuts to make. “Her creativity generates both our amazing doughnuts and our beautiful brand design,” Menna said. Though District Doughnut is new to the Georgetown scene, opening in the area “felt like a perfect progression.” The team’s goal is for the brand to match Georgetown’s classic elegance and modern creativity.
It’s hard not to like a taco. Cofounders Suzanne Simon and Bettina Stern opened Chaia in November of 2015. The business specializes in vegetarian-friendly tacos, but Simon insists that their “concept is for everyone, not just vegetarians.” She said that 80 percent of their customers are not vegetarians. “They are customers who are looking for ways to eat healthy, but want to feel satiated,” Simon said.
The concept of the restaurant, which hosted a recent Georgetown Business Association reception, is to be a fast-casual takeout place as well as an inviting space to linger. An important reason to locate in Georgetown was that Georgetown is a destination to shop, walk around and bring out-of-town guests, with many opportunities for small and local restaurants, according to Simon.
She and Stern live near the restaurant, another factor in deciding where to locate. One of their goals is to help revitalize Grace Street, along with Dog Tag Bakery, Sundavitch, Grace Street Coffee, South Juice Company and the upcoming Reverie Restaurant.
What’s your favorite Georgetown business — new or old? Is it Down Dog Yoga or Dog Tag Bakery? Georgetown Tobacco or Morgan’s Pharmacy? Let us know, and tell us which Georgetown businesses you’d like to learn more about.
Baked & Wired
Bridge Street Books
Chez Billy Sud
Christ Child Opportunity Shop
Cross MacKenzie Gallery
Crumbs & Whiskers Cat Café
Das Ethiopian Cuisine
Dog Tag Bakery
Down Dog Yoga
English Rose Garden
Fiola Mare Restaurant
The Fourth Lock
Georgetown Olive Oil Company
LiLi the First
Little Birdies Boutique
Nick’s Riverside Grill
Pillar & Post
Scarlet Oak Acupuncture
Susan Calloway Fine Arts
Tony & Joe’s Seafood Place
Ultra Violet Flowers
U.S. News & World Report
W. T. Weaver & Sons
Washington Printmakers Gallery
Water Street Gym