Another choice

Lavalís relocates, adds sitdown fare to SE

(Published July 28, 2003)

By GINA PONCE

Staff Writer

A pleasant atmosphere, clean tables and comfortable chairs have replaced what was once a filthy, grungy building that was used as storage space for a liquor store.

Lavalís Good Food To Go and Restaurant, at 2201 Alabama Ave. SE, opened six months ago as only the third sitdown restaurant located east of the Anacostia River in the District.

Owner Laval Sanks said he looked into opening a business in the area after a customer from his previous carryout business of six years on 14th Street NW, near Thomas Circle, suggested the space. Sanks said the customer insisted that Southeast Washington needed his kind of food.

"What I saw that attracted me most was the large kitchen and the walk-in refrigerator and freezer," Sanks said. "This is what I need, because the place downtown was very small."

In his new location, Sanks employs a staff of 12 but says he still does a little bit of everything himself. He said the restaurant was an "out-of-pocket expense" that took two years for the place to be organized enough to open.

"Eventually, this is what we got," Sanks said. "Itís all new for us, just like it is for the neighborhood."

Lavalís, open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner, is two businesses in one: a restaurant/carryout and a catering service. Sanks said his business provides institutional catering for day care centers and nursing homes, as well as catering for weddings, family reunions and birthday parties.

The food has remained the same from the old carryout business, with the addition of a few items such as barbecue ribs, mashed potatoes and turkey wings with gravy.

Sanks said Lavalís has received "very good support from the community." He said most of the customers who come in for carryout food are from the neighborhood and the people who dine in are usually from somewhere else. He said there are many frequent customers already, including several of his downtown customers who followed him to his new location.

Commander Winston Robinson of the Metropolitan Police Departmentís Seventh District is among Lavalís new customers, as are other officers from the nearby Seventh District police station, which is one of the largest workplaces in the area.

Robinson said officers under his command welcome the addition of another nearby choice for eating.

"The atmosphere is very polished and the staff is very attentive to the customers," Robinson said. "Itís really a nice place to go to get away from McDonaldís and those kinds of places. It has provided a real good outlet for people to have a sitdown meal in a nice, clean environment."

Robinson said he thinks it is horrible that such a large community has only a few places to go to have a sitdown meal.

"Thereís no real reason for it," he said. "Folks here deserve better."

Sanks said neighborhood residents have "let us know" how much they appreciate the opening of his restaurant.

"I knew it would get a lot of people from around town because of my reputation with the carryout business," Sanks said, "but this is a community business and weíre here for this community."

Business lunches at the restaurant are becoming more frequent and even Mayor Anthony A. Williams came in for lunch when the restaurant was used for a Ward 8 meeting, Sanks said. "That was exciting for us," he said.

"After being here, Iím surprised at what a gold mine it is Ė not so much in money and finance, but in the cultural aspect," Sanks said. "Itís a place where you can come in, sit down and dine with a pleasant atmosphere, and have breakfast or a lunch meeting."

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator