Every Friday evening since late May, the restaurants has invited diners to watch a Zoom conversation between owner Andy Shallal and a featured guest, free of charge.
The restaurant, which has seven locations in the D.C. region, normally hosts in-person poetry, art and discussion-based events. Now, with the pandemic pausing such gatherings, Shallal said the dinner parties are meant to continue the “meeting of the minds” that Busboys and Poets used to facilitate.
“We’re a place where art, culture and politics collide and we don’t want to lose that,” Shallal said. “We want to continue that collison.”
Most of the parties’ featured guests have spoken at previous Busboys and Poets events, Shallal said. Recent guests include author Alice Walker, filmmaker Michael Moore and Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Shallal said conversations usually cover a speaker’s background and upcoming projects as well as their thoughts on current events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the national reckoning on race and November’s election.
Viewers are encouraged to order meals through Busboys and Poets’ pickup or delivery service to accompany the conversation. Shallal said popular takeout items have been the blackened salmon and the chicken panini, as well as signature cocktails.
Busboys and Poets has also been holding open mic nights and poetry slam competitions through Instagram Live. Hosted by one of the restaurant’s regular poets, amateur poets log in to the livestreams and present their work. Shallal said he hopes these programs maintain a sense of community between artists and art consumers while they are forced apart.
“These are moments when people want to feel connected,” Shallal said. “[People] don’t want to feel like they’re alone. I think these types of virtual conversations and programs that we do help people to recognize that they’re not alone, that there are many, many people out there who are longing for this kind of interaction.”
The next virtual dinner party is Friday, September 11 at 6 p.m. Reverend William Barber II, a pastor and civil rights activist, will be the featured guest.
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