The bright sun could not outshine the glowing smiles on the faces of co-owners and childhood friends Kevon King, Ryan Williams, and Mahammad Mangum, owners of the new The Village Café that officially opened this week in Union Market in Northeast.
“The Village,” as the owners prefer to call it, was designed to be more than a place for coffee, sandwiches and sweet snacks. The trio say they are using the venue to bring their own vision of a community.
“We now have this platform to showcase underserved entrepreneurs,” said Williams “When people hear our story, it will bring them here to see something many have never seen before.”
The Village backstory is about three boys, from Wards 4, 7 and 8 who connected at Woodrow Wilson High School located in Ward 3. They immediately became comrades, hanging out and excelling inside the D.C. Public Schools system. After high school, individually they pursued their the next phase of their lives. Mangum pursued media and film, Williams explored food, and King went into hospitality. Now at age 23, these young men are “living the dream” by opening a business in Ward 5 with an eye toward being an example for other entrepreneurs to emulate.
“Because we are from here — from southeast D.C. to Petworth — we see ourselves as being the bridge to connect with other communities,” King said.
The Village is nestled between bookseller Politics and Prose and the office lobby of EDENS, a development company that has worked extensively within the Union Market business area. The location allows The Village to have the flexibility to host events such as art shows, live performances, or small business seminars. The Village desires to be the town square for community togetherness and enlightenment.
“We are about economic growth and economic growth is inclusive,” said Jodie McLean, CEO of EDENS. “That is the ecosystem that EDENS is committed to. We believe in supporting young entrepreneurs.”
The D.C. Small Business Development Center (DCSBDC), D.C. Government Department of Local and Small Business Development (DSLBD), the Howard University Small Business Center and the Washington Area Community Investment Fund supported the grand opening of The Village and provided other assistance including the development of a business plan, identifying vendors, researching designers and securing funding.
Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie was on hand to help cut the ribbon and officially open the cafe. With this new business venture opening in his Ward, he said he did not want to miss this celebration.
“This is an example of how business, government and the community can come together to support endeavors like this,” said McDuffie, who also is a Woodrow Wilson High School alumnus. “To see these young Black men open a business in the heart of Union Market, should inspire others.”
In addition to Politics and Prose and EDENS, The Village has already been embraced by other Union Market neighbors.
“We’ve been invited by other businesses in and around Union Market to come in and host activities,” said Magnum. “That is giving us a chance for a starting point to develop further.”
The opening was the second time Ward 5 residents Katie Kovacovich and Julia Pang, visited The Village. They stopped in for the “soft opening” and were intrigued with concept of a “village,” Kovacoich said. She has high praise for the popcorn and fritters.
“They are trying to locally source everything and are uplifting women business owners,” said Kovacovich about the beverages and food that is served.
“It’s such a wonderful space,” said Pang. “These young men have made a name and a brand for themselves and that is a beautiful thing.”
The opening of The Village contributes to the development of new enterprises in the Union Market area. That growth has meant 1,200 new jobs in the immediate area which by At-Large Councilman Robert C. White said he embraces.
“Union market has changed. It has a new identity and it is still developing,” said White, who is also a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School. “We need to make sure that strong diversity and native Washingtonians are a fundamental part of that identity.”