When Teaism co-owner Michelle Brown learned around midnight last night that her restaurant next to the White House was on fire, she got in her car and drove over there. The area was blocked off, and a police officer told her she couldn’t go near. She pressed and pushed and debated finding a way through, but ultimately, she turned around and left.
“Before anyone puts a single word in our mouths. Black lives matter,” she tweeted when she got home. Within hours, the tweet had accumulated more than 2,500 likes and 400 retweets.
“It doesn’t matter how I feel. It’s not about me,” Brown tells Washingtonian this morning. “There are 100,000 people dead. This guy had a policeman sit on his neck for nine minutes. These are horrible things that are happening that we’re going through in this country. So for me, whatever it is that we have to cope with, I feel blessed and lucky every day that I’m in confinement here.”
Around 4:15 in the morning, Brown got a call from a bike courier who used to do deliveries for the restaurant and had seen the whole thing go down. “He said, ‘I’m here, and I was here when it happened, and I tried so hard to get them to stop and I asked them, Please don’t do this. These are nice people,'” Brown says. “And he’s explaining this to me, and he’s crying on the phone, like I’m so sorry I couldn’t stop them. And I could hear him walking through the broken glass.”
Brown’s business partner Linda Neumann didn’t see the phone calls last night and learned about the store’s destruction this morning.
“There’s insurance to cover things like this, but we are both just so sad and heartbroken about what’s happening in the country and how things came to this,” Neumann says. “We completely understand, and we’re thankful that nobody was hurt and no lives were lost.”
Brown went down to the store early this morning. By 8:30 AM, the property management group had boarded the place up and was about to begin work on nearby Oval Room, whose windows were also smashed.
Teaism had shut down all three of its locations completely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It wasn’t even offering carryout.
“When the mayor told people to stay home, we told our people to stay home,” says Neumann, who has a GoFundMe campaign to help out-of-work employees. “My people have to ride the Metro, and my people have to work side-by-side, and my people have accept deliveries from purveyors, and my people have to go home to their multigenerational families. And their life matters just as much as your life matters.”
The owners had planned—and still plan—to begin carryout at the Dupont location this week.
“Michelle and I have been depleted for years now. It’s so hard having a restaurant,” Neumann says. “Most of our employees have been with us since the beginning. We just keep on digging and pushing and pushing and digging and pushing.”