Ian Callender stood in the middle of a rubble-strewn lot in Southeast DC, surveying what will be his biggest project yet: Sandlot Anacostia. Tall, soft-spoken, and dressed in a limited-edition North Face jacket and Jordan 4 Retro Raptor sneakers, Callender gazed at the Suitland Parkway traffic snaking past the dirt lot around him. “We’re Phase Zero here,” he said. That much was obvious.
But come June, this area east of the Anacostia River will be transformed into a nearly 28,000-square-foot outdoor music venue, event space, and food-and-drink garden. The place will feel more like a festival than a bar, with DJs, live go-go performances, fresh-pressed-juice cocktails, and a rotating cast of popular restaurants operating out of shipping-container kitchens. There will also be a drive-through pickup area meant to serve people in surrounding communities whose nearby options are mostly fast-food chains. Ultimately, Sandlot Anacostia will be part of the Bridge District, an ambitious mixed-use development near the new Frederick Douglass bridge that’s due to open in 2024. The ground-breaking for both projects is today. Sandlot Anacostia is slated to open over Juneteenth Weekend with a Something in the River Festival featuring free concerts and community events—an inclusive foil to Pharell Williams’s Something in the Water Festival on the National Mall that same weekend, where passes start around $300.
This will be Callender’s fifth Sandlot space in the area—one in a series of temporary gathering spots located in previously vacant areas in Georgetown, Tysons, and other places. Sandlot Anacostia has a ten-year lease, making it the concept’s first foray into semi-permanence.
Callender, the son of Guyanese immigrants, grew up in Mitchellville and went to DeMatha. He learned about real estate from his mom, who founded her own residential firm. They would often chat about empty or abandoned spaces in the car on the way to and from church: “That would be a good barbershop or a market.” Essentially, Sandlot grew out of that type of thinking. “I’ve always been about identifying space,” he says. “I’m just doing real estate in another way.”
In 2005, Callender started an event firm, which he still runs and is now known as Suite Nation. He later launched the popular Blind Whino event space in a long-vacant church in Southwest. The original Sandlot opened in 2019 near Audi Field. He’s also involved in the Arena Social Arts Club, a DC nonprofit that highlights minority artists and curators, and is a commissioner in the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife & Culture. An avid sneaker collector since childhood, Callender wears as many hats as he does designer shoes.
But the Anacostia Sandlot has special significance. He and longtime friend and business partner Kevin “Scooty” Hallums are catering to an area that isn’t well served by DC’s hospitality industry, and they plan to use the new space to spotlight Black business owners, artists, and culinary professionals. They’re bringing in a massive shipping container kitchen, a food truck, and a trailer—all to be offered for free to restaurant owners, caterers and chefs of color in hopes of closing the food desert gap in Ward 8 and provide more food options that the area lacks.
“From a culture perspective, African American entrepreneurs don’t have the advantages of our counterparts,” says Callender. “We’ve been vocal in supporting DC natives and providing a pathway to success.” Part of his goal with the Sandlots has been “to show what’s needed in our community—not just the Black community but the community as a whole. And that’s a beautiful thing.”
A version of this article appears in the May 2022 issue of Washingtonian.