Crazy Aunt Helen’s, the Capitol Hill comfort food restaurant known for its gospel and storytime drag brunches, closed abruptly this week.
“I can go through all the obstacles like opening during Covid, our location challenges, staffing challenges, repair and maintenance costs associated with an older building and equipment… but those are things every restaurant owner experiences. What I would prefer to say is we gave it our best go,” co-owner Shane Mayson says in a statement. “I’m so proud of my waitstaff and kitchen crew for taking my vision for Crazy Aunt Helen’s and bringing it to life. They are the reason we made connections with our neighborhood and the DC community.”
The family-friendly and LGBTQ-friendly restaurant opened just over two years ago with a nostalgic American menu, quirky-colorful decor, and full lineup of performances, from comedy to jazz. It was particularly popular for its drag brunches, especially its gospel event with Shiqueeta-Lee and storytime with Tara Hoot. The restaurant made national headlines when far-right groups tried to protest the drag story hour but were met with a massive crowd of supporters playing Disney songs and shielding the restaurant with rainbow umbrellas.
“We had almost 250 people out in front of the restaurant, and it was freezing,” Mayson recalls. “I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and hearing people say, ‘We live in the neighborhood, and we love y’all here. We don’t want you to go. We support you.’ To have that much love coming at me for this little nugget of an idea, that was really a day I’ll never forget in my life.”
Mayson, a longtime hospitality veteran who recently celebrated 20 years of sobriety, says he plans to shift away from restaurants for now to focus on helping other people through recovery. The Hank’s Oyster Bar alum is working to start a company called Steadfast Support that will provide sober transport, sober companionship, interventions, and life coaching with a specialty in recovery.
“Working in hospitality and restaurants, I love it, and I’m really good at it. But I’ve been doing it for a really long time, and I feel that I want to do something different with this phase of my life,” Mayson says. “I want to do something that that feels a little more connected to my own personal life.”