A Place Called Uniontown
8/17/2011, 9:01 a.m.
Hometown Girl Makes Good
Uniontown Bar and Grill has enjoyed its position, conveniently located within walking distance to the Anacostia metro station, and has stayed the course under the hands-on direction of owner Natasha Dasher. A petite woman who looks much younger than her 35 years, Dasher is herself a returned Washingtonian, having grown up in Southwest before moving to Houston. When she decided to come back to Washington to start a business, it was important that she locate it in a place of need, Ward 8, where unemployment is 26 percent eleven of her twenty-one Staff members are from Ward 8 and she works with DC Empowerment for At Risk Teens to make sure she is giving back to the neighborhood that so warmly welcomed her business. How much they welcomed Uniontown came as a surprise to Dasher.
"When I started the business, I thought it would be a neighborhood bar where people would stop in. I grew up in Southwest, and my mother would go to Pier 1 once or twice a week, and all her neighbors would be there. They would do happy hour, have a drink and that's what it was. People knew each other, and all their kids had grown up together. That's how I envisioned this place to be," she said, taking stolen moments from frequent knocks on her office door, a small room in the back of the restaurant which was more the size of a storage closet.
"I had no idea what would happen. But the market said there are more than 8,000 people who travel this road daily. I should have listened to the market!" Ironically, Dasher's background is in marketing and general contracting. "When I did my business plan and presented it to the building's owner, I thought I might get one-fourth of that traffic," she adds, remembering that she anticipated a rough first year, and made sure she had her capital in order to face a profit-less first six months.
"I had all the bill money to be ready for that. Now I have sticker shock because it is everybody; regulars and a lot of repeat business. I would like to say it was the media, but it is really word-of-mouth and really people who live in the community. People in the area that walk in, they come back for happy hour and they set up meetings. I have had several book clubs; the Sierra Club and garden clubs. Today, we had a table of GSA team workers who are building the Department of Homeland Security campus. They are all here!"
And even those who did not like their first experience, she exclaimed, will come back for a second try. Dasher noted that at times, like during happy hour, it is too crowded. "I did obtain the second floor, but I wanted to wait to expand. We wanted to let a council member move in, but by week two, people were asking when we were moving upstairs," she said. "During a recession, it's hard to say that my volume is that much. They (the community) were completely ready when we opened. In the ANC meetings, they (community leaders) noted that this business is what they really wanted. People had to go over to Barracks Row," she said. "Is it ever going to die down? I don't think so."