Andy Shallal has become a fixture in the theater community in the region. Born in Iraq, he immigrated with his family to Northern Virginia at age 11. The ultimate “people person” he found an outlet in his father’s Annandale restaurant where he worked in high school.
Since opening his first restaurant in 1985, Andy Shallal has reveled in the role of host— first in Annandale, Virginia and then in Washington DC. His first DC restaurant was Skewers, specializing in Lebanese and Middle Eastern fare at the top of the steps at 1633 P Streets NW. Later he added Cafe Luna at the street level. Luna Grill in DC and Shirlington followed. In 2000 Andy opened the theater-themed bistro on P Street which has become a vital part of the vibrant theater community in the region, and most recently in 2005 he opened the vibrant Bus Boys and Poets Restaurant and Theatre.
As a kid Shallal had a serious speech impediment. He got involved in theater for its therapeutic effect. “It is amazing how performing can bring you out of your shell and also help establish those paths in the brain that can help people overcome severe stutters and other impediments” he says. Theater was an outlet and a help, but more serious things beckoned. Andy earned a bachelors from Catholic University and a Masters in Microbiology from Howard University in preparation for a career as a medical immunologist. After a few years at the National Institutes of Health he realized he didn’t want to spend his days with test tubes because “I like people too much.”
So, in 1980 he left NIH to enter the career he really wanted. First he set out to learn more about the restaurant business. He started waiting tables at a restaurant with its address as its name, “209½” on Capitol Hill’s Pennsylvania Avenue. Soon, he was the manager of the place. Later he managed the Foggy Bottom Cafe. Once he felt ready, he opened his first place in Annandale, a pasta and pizza parlor he called “Little Italy.” Then he made a go of DC locations as well.