Iraqi-American Andy Shallal knows firsthand how life can slow you down just enough to change your mind and you take a different path.
“I was on a path to become a doctor and I dropped out of medical school and took a complete 180 degree turn. I walked away and much to my parents chagrin and other people who thought this was a really bad decision,” he says.
Shallal attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and medical school at Howard University. He worked awhile as a researcher in medical immunology at the National Institutes of Health.
“It could have been a very bad decision, my walking away from medical school, but it ended up to be a good decision I made,” he says. “And I felt good about it."
Shallal became an artist and social entrepreneur. He also is the founder of Busboys and Poets. The name refers to American poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1930s, prior to gaining recognition as a poet.
Shalall says he realized that he wanted to and could succeed in a different way.
“The restaurant business in itself is a dynamic business always changing. I look forward to every day, going to work, he says. “It's always nice to go to work at the watering hole you know. It's a great space to be in. I don't have to leave an office to come to eat. This is my office and this is my space. It's where people come to connect and meet.”
Busboys and Poets is also a place for expression.
“We also have lots of ties with the artistic community particularly poets. Washington D.C. has become the number one poetry destination in the entire country. Poets come from everywhere in the country and in the world to practice their craft here,” Shallal says.
We do a lot with the fine arts community, with organizations like homeless advocates and health advocates as well as provide many organizations support financially.”
And expressions from Shallal are featured in the restaurant.
“On the wall of Busboys and Poets hangs a civil rights mural called ‘Peace in Struggle’ Wall. It is a mural that I did and part of it was really to give me a sense of a marker to look back to when things in life didn’t seem so great,” he says. “It shows a look at history and gives a sense of possibility that struggle is continuous. And it keeps us all going, Shallal says.
Additional Busboys and Poets restaurants are in Maryland and Virginia. Busboys and Poets is one place where racial and cultural connections are consciously and continuously uplifted.