Home » Business » Meet Michael and Leah Moon, New Operators of the New Deal Cafe

Meet Michael and Leah Moon, New Operators of the New Deal Cafe

Leah and Michael MoonStarting 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.”

New Deal Cafe with peonies in bloom
These peonies near the Cafe have evoked much public admiration on Facebook.

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.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog weekly at GardenRant.com.

15 Responses

  1. Amy
    | Reply

    I don’t live in Greenbelt, but am excited to hear of a new vegan restaurant opening up! The food sounds amazing.. For the negative commenters who eat meat: a). Try eating a vegan meal. You may love it! And it’s healthy and good for the planet! No one will tie you down and try to convert you :). b). There are hundreds of other places for you to eat meat. Most do not offer vegan options. Perhaps if more restaurants offered good vegan options, there wouldn’t be a need for a vegan only restaurant. I will make the trip to Greenbelt to support this change. Hopefully those in the community, both vegan and non, will support it, too!

  2. CSmith
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    Wonderful points by all. Let me start by saying I am not a vegan, but I love great food. What needs to be considered is not what may be lost (meat), but what may be gained (a quality dining experience that can be embrace by locals and non-locals alike). Here’s the harsh reality. New Deal, in its current format with a universal menu, cannot sustain itself, never could. It has never been able to expand its customer base (very important), beyond those who are regulars or of the immediate local community. Fact is a large % of area residents within 5 miles of the place don’t even know it exist. And, in the restaurant game, which is a crap shoot at best, with a failure rate of 70%, this is huge. The factor that consistently rises to the top for dines that fail is insufficient traffic flow. Regulars in a small, quaint community like Ole’ Town Greenbelt, as wonderful as they are, don’t eat enough; drink enough to keep the doors open. That has been proven for New Deal, as its struggles are not new. You need three times the traffic to be on the right side of the margins. Secondly, it is difficult to find concepts or proven food purveyors – based on the limitations of the site itself. The fact that the folks with Pianta what to take on the challenge is unique based on their accomplishment. They could easily attempt this somewhere else in the DMV, so the fact that they’ve chosen New Deal is promising. There’s already a buzz in the foodie community about its pending arrival. People who love to eat are talking about it. Is that a promise of success…of course not. But, in terms of buzz, New Deal is light years ahead of where it was the day before. Here’s my final point. Maybe the new deal at New Deal brings new attention to Roosevelt Center. Asian and pizza are nice, but variety is the spice of life. If this works, attracts diners to the center, it opens the door for another restaurant concept to maybe fill open space at Roosevelt. Bringing yet another wonderful dining experience to the area and the community.

  3. Ellie
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    I am not a vegan but I would certainly eat and probably enjoy this food … especially if it was catered and my host was paying for it. When presented with a menu lacking any meat options I might decide to eat my meal elsewhere before the music. I think we should considider what the NDC should be for the MAJORITY of its patrons … a thriving restaurant which happens to have a limited bar and a GREAT music venue, or a GREAT music venue with a dependable cafe to grab a bite before a show? I’m good with not wasting more and more money and going with the latter. But hey, that’s me. Good luck NDC.

  4. Michael Moon
    | Reply

    Hi all,

    Thanks for your thoughtful criticism and comments about NDC going plant-based. All we can say is that if you enjoy great tasting food, you will be really happy with the food program at NDC. If you are intent on predominantly consuming animal products, this will not be a good option for you.

    The board is interested in the future success of the cafe. Having a contractor that can subsidize its costs with multiple lines of business is essential and fundamental to that mission. Our model achieves that goal.

    We are interested in investing in the community and the cafe. We are also interested in being outstanding stewards of our environment by protecting resources and providing delicious cruelty free (and additive & preservative free) food that is accessible and tastes great.

    At worst, the cafe stays open. At best, you expand your pallet and contribute to the cafe and its future success.

    Either way – the cafe will move forward with its mission to be inclusive, progressive and to remain your community living room.

    We hope you will join us and give it a try.


    Michael Moon

  5. Carol Shaw
    | Reply

    I’ve heard many times the businesses in Roosevelt Center wishing they could pull in clientele from outside of central Greenbelt. I applaud NDC choosing a type of food not found in the area. It’s this uniqueness that will bring enough people to make the place profitable. This is probably the last opportunity for NDC to stay open. Let’s give it all the support we can.

  6. Carissa
    | Reply

    I am incredibly excited. I also think people don’t realize that there are so incredibly few good vegan restaurants – the Silver Diner has like two options and Busboys and Poets is a small hike from Greenbelt. We drive all the way up to Clarksville to eat at Great Sage. Vegetarians/vegans will travel to a good spot, so offering something that you can’t just get at myriad restaurants within 5 square miles of the city is actually a good way to bring people in who wouldn’t just go anyway because its walking distance from their house.

    I would say this – I have not eaten at NDC over the past year because we tried all the vegan dishes and did not like any of them, even though we do want to support the cafe. So we go, we get beers and fries, but we don’t make it a real spot to get a meal, and I don’t really bring visiting friends because they’ve also had bad experiences with the food. It’s not about being vegan, it’s about being GOOD FOOD. I have a really good feeling that these guys are going to make delicious food and you won’t even realize it’s vegan.

  7. Jay
    | Reply

    It matters to people such as myself who enjoy meat, a good steak, burger or meat as part of the dish such as meatballs on pasta. It will matter to the overall success of the cafe. To be a financial success, the cafe will have to have a good lunch income as well as dinner. Generally, the larger the number of potential dinners, the better the odds for financial success. Brookland is not Greenbelt. Time will tell.

  8. Susan Harris
    | Reply

    Hmm. Vegan is what they do. Isn’t asking them to serve meat like asking a Chinese restaurant to also serve burgers? And really, do meat-eaters have to have meat at every single meal?
    Michael and Leah sought out the Cafe to partner with us and easily won us all over, especially after we tasted the dishes. I think people will love the food.
    Partnering with the Moons is also the Cafe’s best chance at success, and a really exciting new chapter in its amazing history.

    • Linda
      | Reply

      While vegan is what they do it doesn’t mean it, and they, are right for the job. A successful vegan restaurant on DC is much different than one on a small town. Especially given the struggles with the cafe now.

  9. Linda
    | Reply

    I agree with Steve. The issue with the New Deal has always been the fact that it doesn’t operate as a traditional American cafe but has foods that are off putting and intimidating to many.

    The personal preferences of the few dictate how the cafe ooperates. The neighnorhood clientele are a cliquish group that that overtake the tables and leave little room for outsiders. Obviously this little clique cannot sustain the cafe. As we have witnessed time and time again.

    This isn’t “The Place to Be” on Detroit in Lakewood, a neighborhood that can support a niche place, but instead one of two sit down restaurants with table service.

    Vegan restaurants are great but I feel as though they (NDC) are limiting their clientele and making what many refer to as the “neighborhood livingroom” an exclusive venue where only likeminded folks are welcome. This is going to set the NDC up for yet another failure, another rift in the community, and fewer options for the future of the cafe.

  10. James
    | Reply

    To Steve: I’m not vegan, but why does it matter? Good food is good food.

    • Jay
      | Reply

      It matters to people such as myself who enjoy meat, a good steak, burger or meat as part of the dish such as meatballs on pasta. It will matter to the overall success of the cafe. To be a financial success, the cafe will have to have a good lunch income as well as dinner. Generally, the larger the number of potential dinners, the better the odds for financial success. Brookland is not Greenbelt. Time will tell.

      • Susan
        | Reply

        Well go to a restaurant that serves steaks if you want steaks, and if you don’t then try something vegan. It’s not like it’s going to kill you to try it.

  11. Steve
    | Reply

    My question is and I’m talking for allot of people about the type of food being served here. People are wondering about the food being served here is it going to be strictly vegan. If this is so why-, why can’t all foods be served here, why should the meat-eaters be left out. I feel this is not good business sense. Could you explain this to the meat eater crowd. Thank you

    • Susan
      | Reply

      Why don’t you give it a try and see if you like it before you decide you don’t want it? I’ve been “left out” of eating at every restaurant I’ve ever been to, asking employees to scrounge around and find something vegetarian that I can eat. Meat-eaters can go to literally any other restaurant anywhere and get something to eat, and they can ALSO eat vegan food. Gosh

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