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Sale of Long-Time Soho Tea & Coffee to New Local Owner Assures Continuity on P Street

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the July 2018 issue pdf

By Larry Ray*

On May 30, 2018, Eduard Badalyan received his new Group Soho business license and closed on the sale of Soho Tea and Coffee at 2150 P Street, NW, Dupont Circle. The new owner asserts that they will be on a learning curve with Soho to retain present loyal customers and traditions and also expand to new customers and events. Eduard’s sister Liana will be a key to staffing Soho. Conveniently, they live in the neighborhood.

Liana Badalyan has extensive experience in the hospitality industry, having served in various capacities in DC’s Remington Hotels-managed hotel as front office manager, including responsibility for directing and coordinating front desk personnel, maintaining hotel quality and cost standards, monitoring guest surveys, monitoring employees satisfaction and taking appropriate actions to achieve the hotel’s goals.

Why Did the Owners Sell after 23 Years?

So why did long time owners and partners Helene Bloom, a former federal government manager, and Fran Levine, who had worked in automotive sales, sell their establishment? As Helene told this reporter, “AARP would say that we have entered the ‘young old’ age. You know the old saying, ‘You don’t own the business; the business owns you.’ We were always on call, making us delay or reschedule many social activities and trips. We have fun! Our funky coffee shop concept worked with book clubs, discussion groups, speed datings, open mic, art shows. Even Paula Abdul stopped by in 2011. But we are ready to repurpose our lives, including much more traveling. We wish the lovely new owners the best of luck. We loved the business and it was time to turn over the baton.”

Manager Sami Antoine has been the mainstay of Soho for 15 years, serving as manager, preparer, and cook. He is famous for his soups and what many have characterized as “out of this universe” chicken salad. Beyond his cooking, based on his Lebanese background, he is multi-lingual as are the Soho customers. He is assisting Eduard and Liana in the transition.

Comments from the “Regulars.”

“We’re regulars at Soho, our neighborhood coffee house, three or four times a week since it opened. Michael and I have come to relish the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere, indoors and outside when the weather is nice. You can often find us reading our latest book or the local papers. And as an artist, I’ve done countless drawings of Soho patrons and more than a few paintings based on those drawings. Fran and Helene offered me a chance to put my art on the walls for a few weeks a year ago. Got lots of good feedback. We’ve made friends, kibitzed with neighbors, engaged in lively conversations, and otherwise have enjoyed the scene and the congenial staff these many years.” Gordon Binder and Michael Rawson have lived in Dupont Circle since 1973, just a few blocks from Soho.

Another regular, Mary says, “I would sum it up as a wonderful neighborhood refuge, a place for writers to write, community organizers to meet, friends to catch up, a great and deeply-appreciated port in the storm.”

And other regulars like Will, says, “It’s clear that the new owners care very much about Soho and its customers. Sami has been Soho’s anchor and I’m glad he is staying on; I’m confident Soho will thrive in this transition.” Travis Thorn, who has lived in DC for more than 35 years, added, “Soho has the best iced coffee in the city. I am looking forward to future Armenian pastries and coffee.”

Joel also had this to say: “After retiring from my old job, Soho was a refuge for me. It was a place to ponder my next steps. The owners, Helene and Fran, and manager Sami Antoine provided me with a place to write, meet new friends, and engage in conversations and sometimes contentious
debates.”

And shortly before writing this story, Dan offered more praise: “I’ve been going to Soho ever since it opened. From the beginning, it had a relaxed and unpretentious vibe, offering well-prepared but moderately priced food and drink and welcoming a diverse clientele. It’s exactly the kind of place that makes Dupont Circle so appealing, especially during a time of rapid gentrification and the spread of chain culture.”

What it Was Like 23 Years Ago in Their P Street Block

When Helene and Fran, later married in Provincetown, Massachusetts, opened their funky Soho Tea and Coffee at Dupont Circle neighborhood’s busy 22nd and P Street corner, the area was the epicenter of the city’s gay community. Within mere yards of their place were five gay-owned establishments: Badlands Nightclub with five bars, Friends’ Piano Bar (later known as Escandola, but closed several years ago), P Street Station (now known as the Fireplace), Mr. P’s with a very popular large outdoor patio at the rear (closed when the building was acquired for the now out-of-business Marrakesh restaurant), and the Fraternity House with five bars (now known as Omega). In addition, there was Herb’s restaurant in the mid-block hotel (now the Palomar) that attracted an arts crowd and art exhibits and events. Many tourists compared this Dupont Circle era to be akin to San Francisco’s Castro district 0f the 1980s and 1990s.

22nd and P Still a Vital Intersection

This intersection across from Rock Creek Park and three blocks from the Dupont Circle Metro station remains vital with lots of foot traffic from Georgetown, West End, nearby embassies and hotels like the Palomar in the same block and the Marriott in the 2100 block, with Soho as an inviting stopover.

Conclusion

Today, almost all of these gay bars are not only gone as a result of the gay community spreading out across much of the city in recent years, but some of those spaces — Badlands, Omega, Mr. P’s — are empty. Notwithstanding, there is well-founded optimism for the immediate P Street and larger Dupont Circle area in light of the about-to-start work of the new Dupont North BID and the DDOT enhancements planned for the “deck-over” project on Connecticut Avenue immediately north of the Circle. All this augers well for establishments like Soho and the other neighborhood-serving businesses.

*Senior feature writer Larry Ray is a former Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights ANC commissioner, as well as having previously served as President of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association and also of the 1905-established Columbia Heights Civic Association. In addition. He is  a Senior Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University School of Law teaching negotiation and mediation,

Copyright © 2018 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.