Starting July 1st, the kitchen at the New Deal Café will be operated by local food entrepreneurs Michael and Leah Moon, so naturally Greenbelters are very curious about them. Here’s a short introduction.
Michael grew up in Cleveland and attended Kent State, where he studied music. Since moving to DC he’s been active in the local music scene, supporting his music by working in fine-dining restaurants, first as a server and then training and managing front-of-house staff.
Leah grew up in Rochester, NY and Cleveland, OH and earned a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Washington University. She works for social justice in several media, including academics, art-making and food. She is the Artistic Director of Tia Nina, a “feminist punk rock dance band.” (You can see them on Vimeo).”
Avid cooks, they started their own food business in 2015 – the highly successful catering business DC Vegan Catering, which quickly found its market with no advertising at all. The recipes, all plant-based, were developed and tested in the Moons’ home kitchen and have proven to be popular with both vegan and meat-eating audiences, like the majority of their catering clients.
As they explained to New Deal members at a recent meeting about the change, the Moons believe in attracting people with great-tasting, accessible food that celebrates their Italian-American roots and nurtures the environment, animals, and our health.
In the spring of 2018 Michael and Leah also opened their Pianta sandwich shop in the Tastemakers food court near Catholic University, where they serve Northern Italian-inspired, plant-based comfort food. Its familiar flavors and textures are proving to be quite popular with students and others in the Brookland neighborhood.
It’s their catering business and sandwich shop that enable them to subsidize the operations of the New Deal, similar to how the Café’s prior contractor subsidized his operations by catering Lebanese food from its kitchen.
The Moons, who live in Takoma Park, first heard about the New Deal through their Greenbelt friend Joe Harris, a musician who also organizes Open Mics and other Café events and met Michael through the DC music scene.
Joe explains, “I’ve known Mike and Leah for many years and have always been impressed by their creativity, dedication and professionalism. When it became apparent to me that the New Deal Café would likely pursue the “contractor-model,” I reached out to them not just because they are experiencing great success cooking delicious food, but also because they’re an excellent fit for the Greenbelt community. I absolutely look forward to this next chapter in the history of the New Deal Café.”
When Michael and Leah first visited the Café it reminded them of the progressive and laid-back cafés they loved in Rochester and Cleveland but couldn’t find in D.C. The Café’s role as Greenbelt’s “community living room” was especially attractive to them.
In their many visits here they’ve also come to appreciate Old Greenbelt for its walkability and closeness to nature. Here they’ve experienced a “downshifting” from the intensity of the city, something Michael told me is “super-attractive to us.”
Plans for the Café
The Moons will bring to the Café the same Italian comfort foods they’re now serving in their Brookland sandwich shop, plus bar snacks and additional entrees. Initially lunch and dinner will be served, as they begin assessing the demand for breakfast. In speaking to Café members Michael spoke of wanting to “elevate the Café,” with “beautiful food we can be proud of.”
Michael and Leah have high standards not just for the food they serve; they believe in fair pay, progressive hiring and business practices, and creating an ethical and inclusive environment. Sounds like a good fit for Greenbelt.