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Call Your Mother expands to a second location on Capitol Hill during pandemic

Owner Andrew Dana has managed to keep all 144 employees on payroll during the coronavirus crisis.

WASHINGTON — It takes a village to open a restaurant even under the best of circumstances. To open one during a global pandemic is a whole new ballgame. But Andrew Dana has never been one to shy away from a challenge. The man behind two of D.C.'s premiere carb-fueled haunts opened a second outpost of his "jew-ish" deli -- Call Your Mother -- on Capitol Hill Wednesday. 

Dana had been planning to open the second location with his co-founder Daniela Moreira in mid-March, but hit the pause button when coronavirus began spreading. 

"We were originally going to hit the pause button indefinitely given that it seemed like a crazy time to open a restaurant," Dana said. "This all just came together in the last week." 

Once Dana realized he had the supplies to make bagels for wo locations and enough employees who could walk to work at the Capitol Hill location -- he didn't want anyone relying on public transportation during these times -- he decided to just go for it. 

Credit: Courtesy Call Your Mother

"It gave us a chance to do something fun and positive in this insane, anxiety-driven time," Dana said. "It seemed like a win-win." 

The idea came to fruition during a weekly Zoom call with his managers where they were brainstorming ways they could stay afloat. 

"Eventually we all just looked at each and said 'should we open a restaurant right now?" Dana said. "It was going to help keep money in our staff's pockets, so we just said 'why not?'" 

And speaking of keeping money in his staff's pockets, Dana has managed to keep all 144 of his employees on payroll, despite the fact that he temporarily closed all his restaurants when the virus hit. Dana said he's always tried to keep at least two payrolls in a rainy day fund, though he admits he was planning more for events like a restaurant flood, than a global pandemic. 

He also launched an online experience store, where people could pay for the right to name a sandwich ($1,500), skip the line for a year ($2,000) or buy a dozen bagels to be delivered to a friend ($100). The experienced shop garnered nearly $75,000 in revenue. Finally, Dana was able to reopen Timber Pizza and the original Call Your Mother with a very limited takeout menu. 

"The accounts are still going down and we need the paycheck protection program to actually come through, but we've slowed how fast it's going down to be able to keep everyone on payroll while we wait for that loan," Dana said. 

Credit: Courtesy Call Your Mother

Both the Park View flagship (3301 Georgia Ave. NW) and the Capitol Hill location (701 8th St. SE ) are serving a limited menu of bagels, schmears and the Shyne sandwich (bacon or pastrami, egg, cheese and spicy honey on an everything bagel) for takeout only. As the team gets more comfortable with the workflow under a skeleton staff, Dana hopes to add more menu items back in. 

Dana said he's operating with about one-third of his regular staff. Call Your Mother used to be staffed with 15 employees per shift on weekends and eight to ten during the week. Now he has four to five employees in on the weekends and three during the week. 

"This past month has been so scary," Dana said. "So to have something fun to focus on again, the whole staff has just been super pumped about it."

Dana recently partnered with the teams from Rose's Luxury and Anju to deliver pre-packaged weekly meals to first responders, from hospitals to fire departments, police departments and others in need. Separately, Call Your Mother has also been doing deliveries to Children's Hospital and Suburban Hospital, and they plan to continue those as well. 

Orders at the Capitol Hill location will need to be placed by 2 p.m. the day before pick up.

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