Still bearing marks of current unrest, Char Bar reopens for business

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Struggling during through the pandemic and then struck during riots, it’s the love from the community that helps Char Bar carry on, according to owner Michael Chelst.

exterior of restaurant Char Bar in DC
Char Bar’s windows were damaged during rioting in DC during the night of June 1, 2020. Photo by Aaron Keyak/Twitter.

Chelst estimated that 70 customers dined at the kosher eatery in the District yesterday when it reopened for first time since two of its windows were cracked by rocks late Monday night. A normal dinner crowd for this time of year would be around 200 people, he said, but this isn’t a normal year and he expressed appreciation for the turnout.

“We’re trying to get through each day one day at a time,” he said.

The windows are thought to be part of the collateral damage small businesses in cities nationwide are experiencing during protests over the death of George Floyd, 46, who was killed on May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer. Chelst said that he contacted the Metropolitan Police Department to report the nighttime incident, but was on hold with 911 for more than half an hour. “We gave up, frustrated, and we’re just dealing with it ourselves,” he said.

He does not think the Char Bar was specifically targeted for its tie to the Jewish community. “Nobody did any traditional anti-Jewish graffiti to the restaurant, and usually when there is an anti-Semitic attack that is part of it,” he pointed out.

Another local kosher restaurant, Shouk, was looted and set on fire the previous night in Georgetown.

Chelst doesn’t know yet if insurance will cover the cost of replacement windows but he doubts it. And he isn’t planning to replace them until the unrest in DC is over.

“A couple people started GoFundMes, which is extremely nice,” he said. “Honestly, it’s the number of people, the comments … It’s not so much the dollars — not that they don’t help, they do — but when you see the community appreciates [the restaurant], makes it much easier to go through hard times.”

To sum up: “I appreciate the love,” he said.

“The restaurant business is already difficult and with its small downtown-based community, keeping a Kosher [sic] restaurant afloat in the nation’s capital has never been easy,” write Aaron Keyak and Bethany Shondark in their GoFundMe shpiel in support of Char Bar. “The bulk of Char Bar’s clientele hasn’t been in the city in months and with ongoing concerns over COVID and unrest, its most profitable summer tourism months don’t look promising. We need to step up to make sure we have a Kosher establishment in Washington; for future business meetings, vacations, catering events, and more.”

“Char Bar has been there for us, let’s be there for them,” they write. The fundraiser, called “Keep D.C. Kosher: Chip in for Char Bar’s Recovery,” has raised more than $8,000 toward its $72,000 goal since it launched two days ago.

After closing temporarily due to the pandemic, Char Bar reopened for limited dinner reservations from 4 to 8 p.m. about a month ago, in addition to running free delivery to different regions of Greater Washington. “We’ve also held some events,” added Chelst, including a drive-thru at B’nai Israel in Rockville for which staff prepared over 700 meals.

The pandemic also attracted new customers from the local Jewish community. For instance, Char Bar did 280 deliveries for Passover, compared with less than 30 in previous years. “I hope to build more and more relationships with people,” he said.

Chelst also donated boxed meals for 150-person drive-thru sheva brachot for a Chabad couple at the Howard County Chabad. It was a thank you to the Chabad Centers for their support for his business over the years, he said.

“The purpose of these things is not to make money, but to stay open and to give our employees a job,” Chelst continued. Char Bar not only serves the local Jewish community but workers on the Hill and tourists visiting the nation’s capital. To get a sense of Char Bar’s losses due to the coronavirus pandemic: the school trips cancelled alone amount to around 3,000 meals.

And it isn’t over. The cancellation of AIPAC’s 2021 policy conference takes away “a huge revenue source” for Char Bar, Chelst said.

rkohn@midatlanticmedia.com

@RachelKTweets

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