Today’s Peacemaker is DC-area artist, activist and entrepreneur (owner of Busboys and Poets) Andy Shallal. Anas “Andy” Shallal was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1955. While serving as the Ambassador of the Arab League, his father moved the family to the US in 1966 but as the Ba’athists and Saddam Hussein seized power through the ’70’s, the family could not return. Andy got a degree from Catholic University and enrolled in Howard University medical school. He also worked as a medical immunology researcher at NIH before returning to the restaurant business that his family had entered.
After opening and running three successful restaurants with his brothers in DC, he sold his interests and opened the first Busboys and Poets in 2005. Now with 6 locations in the DC metro-area, these are more than restaurants; they are bookstores and market-places that promote social awareness and justice causes, and where fair-trade products are sold, and where organic, earth-friendly food and beverages are promoted. These places also are gathering places for community events that promote dialog and understanding. These efforts to promote healthful and sustainable practices has gained recognition by the US Healthful Food Council. Shallal is also one of the co-founders of Think Local First, promoting and supporting local business owners and sustainable practices.
In addition to the businesses, Shallal has been active in a number of political and social justice causes (among his teachers was Colman McCarthy). He is a member of Restaurant Centers Opportunity United that promotes good wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. He has been active in numerous peace movement organizations, including Iraqi Americans for Peaceful Alternatives, and the Peace Cafe that promotes Arab-Jewish dialogue. He participated in many events protesting the second Gulf War, and spoke at the “counter-inauguration” of GW Bush in 2005. He also catered Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war camp/vigil outside Bush’s Crawford Ranch. He has received the UN Human Rights Community Award, the Mayor’s Environmental Award, the Mayor’s Art Award, the Washington Peace Center’s Man of the year, and numerous leadership awards in employment and sustainability practices. His artwork can be seen in all of the Busboys and Poets locations as well as other places throughout DC.
As he has become successful, he has also recognized the tension that comes with advocating for equality while being rich. In 2013, he stated “I am increasingly uncomfortable with my comfort.” He has spoken out for higher minimum wages, and raised concerns about the difference between healthy communities and gentrification. He was outspoken in advocating that Walmart stores opening in DC pay decent wages and provide for worker rights. In addition, despite his financial success, his two daughters attended public high schools and colleges.
For today, here are two quotes of his that reflecting the spirit of Shallal:
“Every culture from around the globe contains an infusion of food culture that is relative. So we all have something to share.”
“If we continue to think of ourselves as color-blind, then I think we’re always going to be tripping over ourselves.”