By George Kevin Jordan, Special to the AFRO
Three young D.C. entrepreneurs aim to serve some heart-warming hope and hospitality as they open their first venture, The Village Cafe, inside Union Market. Kevon King, Mahammad Mangum and Ryan Williams who met as kids, and bonded at Woodrow Wilson High School, maintained a friendship, and recently agreed to make a change in their career trajectories.
“Basically last summer we all came together trying to pursue something more than what we were doing at the moment,” Mangum said. “We wanted to create an opportunity for ourselves and others.”
The trio had worked in a variety of culinary positions. King held various restaurant management jobs, and Mangum was a barista at several coffee houses while he was studying history at Monterey Peninsula College, in Monterey, California. Williams attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and worked with local chef Nick Stefanelli. They created a pitch book for their idea, and met with everyone, from local government to business and development leaders, anyone to help them solidify their business. Ultimately they were led to Eden Development who helped them solidify their venture at Union Market.
“We pretty much had to go and get the funding and be able to make sure that this works but Eden played a big role in helping us materialize our idea and create a creative concept,” King said.
Union Market,1309 5th St. NE, Washington, DC, 20002, which is owned by EDEN, is a hotspot in the city with over 15,000 people visiting the spot each weekend according to a 2016 report from the Urban Land Institute. Union Market boasts over 22,000 square feet of retail space and hosted over 400 events that year.
For King and his fellow founders, the District was the only place they could see their business saying, “D.C. has always had a special place in our hearts.”
The community seems to be welcoming the young entrepreneurs with open arms. D.C. City Council member Kenyan McDuffie said in a press release, “It is with a great sense of pride that I welcome The Village Cafe to Ward 5 and the Union Market area, which continues to grow more vibrant every day.”
“Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy, employing District residents and keeping dollars circulating within our communities. I congratulate my fellow Wilson High School alums, Kevon, Mahammad and Ryan on their new venture and look forward to the many cups of coffee I will be enjoying at The Village Cafe for years to come.”
Coffee is big business according to a report from research firm Mintel. Coffee sales exceeded $23.4 Billion in 2017, which is a 41% increase since 2011. But the report also mentioned a “cooling of coffee shop grow to just over 2%, the lowest spurt in six years. But Mungum points to a more strategic and holistic approach to Village Cafe, and a dedicated effort to building community, and partnering with local vendors, which he believes will improve their chances for success.
“There are other shops around,” Mangum said, “But a lot of what we do is mission based. We want to showcase entrepreneurs to underserved communities and give them a platform to showcase their products.”
Village Cafe is dedicated to working with local partners including Politics and Prose and Southeastern Roastery, which is The Cafe’s coffee partner.
The Village Cafe will have a host of offerings besides fresh brewed coffee and snacks, including, Sign language classes with Gallaudet University, “Village Talks,” including healthy eating panel discussions, Children’s story time with Politics and Prose, career skills workshops + “coffee culture” training, Partner highlight podcast and Wilson High School alumni panel.
Though the Village Cafe had a soft opening on Tuesday, the store plans a big Grand opening Oct. 23rd.