Painting Pictures of Hope

Restaurateur Decorates Local Storefronts to Spread Positivity, Show Support Through Trying Times
By Annie Dankelson | Busboys and Poets window by Andy Shallal; window photo and portrait by Tony Richards; Zaytinya window by Joe Monolith; Arena Stage window by Shawn Perkins; Arena Stage window by Luther Wright; China Chilcano window by Joe Monolith

For Andy Shallal MBA ’19, what started as a break-in became a window of opportunity.

The founder of the D.C.-centric Busboys and Poets restaurant chain was boarding up a shattered window at one of his city locations shortly after COVID-19 had shut down dine-in service when he decided to paint the plywood. In bold letters and flowing script, he spelled out “Busboys [heart] Anacostia.”

Grateful emails and messages from the community poured in, giving Shallal an idea: “There are so many places that are closed, so many dark windows,” he recalls thinking. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we did this in other locations?”

That sparked #PaintTheStorefronts, an initiative in which restaurants and small businesses hire local artists to decorate their windows, share images on social media and spread hope amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. The project grew to what Shallal estimates as at least 150 storefronts across the metro D.C. area and has evolved since the death of George Floyd in police custody to include murals and messages supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

“All are positive messages and useful,” Shallal says. “It’s uplifting.”

After having all seven Busboys and Poets locations painted, Shallal contacted chef and humanitarian José Andrés—a fellow member of the ReOpen D.C. Advisory Group—who was happy to have his popular restaurants join the cause. With the help of the hashtag, the movement quickly spread around the DMV as more people started picking up paintbrushes.

As D.C. entered its first phases of reopening, nationwide protests in the wake of Black Americans’ killings led to new messages appearing: “Say their names: Trayvon, Breonna, George.” “No justice, no peace.” “Black Lives Matter.”

“It’s a really good thing to see,” Shallal says. “It makes for a much more united city and gives a sense of community.”

The artist and restaurateur, who immigrated to the U.S. from Iraq with his parents in 1966, has always seen Busboys and Poets as a place to bring together people from different backgrounds, and hosts an array of artists and experts for performances and discussions on relevant topics.

Amid recent calls for social and racial justice, he hopes to see the conversations and support for change continue in restaurants, businesses and beyond.

“Having the opportunity to break bread with people you may not know or who aren’t necessarily in your community is a useful way to break those barriers,” Shallal says. “You’ve got to recognize each other’s humanity before you start moving forward for systemic change.”


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