Busboys and Poets has shuttered its Baltimore location after two years.

The restaurant’s CEO, Andy Shallal, announced the eatery’s closure Wednesday afternoon, telling staff at a meeting “they were losing money on this location,” according to former employee Magdelene Jones. A spokeswoman for the company confirmed the employee’s account.

“We have closed the Charles Village location for the foreseeable future,” said Alisha Byrd, vice president of marketing for the company. She added that the restaurant could reopen elsewhere in the city. “We love Baltimore, it’s just a matter of finding the right location for it.”

Shallal emphasized that reasoning, writing in a text message, “The location wasn’t ideal. We do better in more eclectic neighborhoods.”

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The D.C.-based restaurant chain, named for the poet Langston Hughes, “who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s,” according to the company website, combines an eatery with a bookstore, bar and event space. Its first and only Baltimore branch opened in 2021 to much fanfare at 3224 St. Paul St., near the Johns Hopkins University in Charles Village. It sits on the ground floor of a large building with student housing above. It’s the first time the chain has closed a location, Byrd confirmed.

Another location of Busboys and Poets opened in Columbia’s Merriweather District in 2021 and is performing well, said Byrd, calling the layout there “a better fit for our model.”

Busboys and Poets has closed its Baltimore location for “the foreseeable future,” says a spokeswoman. (Kimi Yoshino)

A sign on the door of the Baltimore restaurant Wednesday called the shutdown temporary, while former staff members said they were told it was permanent, effective immediately, and were sent home, Jones said. Former server Natalie English said she wasn’t able to make it to the meeting with Shallal but learned about the closure from her co-workers.

Jones, who was a host and busser, said staff had heard rumors the restaurateur hadn’t renewed their lease on the space but wasn’t sure if it was true. Bathrooms and equipment that broke down were not repaired in a timely manner, while dishwashers who quit weren’t always replaced with new hires, Jones said.

“They didn’t want to put money into things that were broken at our location,” Jones said.

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She added that staff had been planning to go on strike for the rest of the week to protest a recent and sudden reduction in the restaurant’s operating hours. The restaurant was originally set to close Tuesdays and Wednesdays, a move English said was “kind of a shock” and made her question what else was coming.

Byrd said the change in hours as well as a reduction in menu offerings were part of the company’s attempts to make the operation work.

“We tried many things to make it make good business sense,” she said.

This article has been updated to reflect the origins of the Busboys and Poets name.


Christina Tkacik is the food reporter for The Baltimore Banner.

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