Busboys and Poets’ Joy Zarembka on inviting customers to take a deliberate break

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Busboys and Poets, a socially responsible restaurant, bookstore and community center, was named after one of the most famous busboy/poets of all time: Langston Hughes.

By providing space for all, the multi-unit restaurant business has inspired more than just appetites. He also inspired positive change.

Before working as operations director for Busboys and Poets, Joy Zarembka worked on her writing at the restaurant.

Writers know the importance of where you choose to “put pen to paper.” You need a quiet space where you can work and comfortable enough to spend a lot of time.

At Busboys and Poets, customers are encouraged to take a “deliberate break”. And during this break, they can eat, drink, enjoy art, buy books, etc. Founded in Washington, DC by artist and activist Andy Shallal in 2005, the restaurant is a “cultural center where racial and cultural ties are consciously strengthened”.

Busboys and Poets is:

  • a community where racial and cultural ties are consciously elevated.
  • a place to take a deliberate break and nurture your mind, body and soul.
  • a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide.

Joy Zarembka chose the original 14th and V location to be her writing spot because the restaurant was so welcoming. Others wrote novels and doctoral dissertations while taking their time at Busboys and Poets, she added.

“A lot of restaurants are trying to turn things around and kick people out,” Joy Zarembka said during an interview at Toast headquarters with Shawn Walchef of CaliBBQ Media. “We want people to sit down and relax, grab a book, have a drink, see a show, learn poetry, look at the artwork, hang out with their friends.

“We’re one of those places where we don’t send people back when they’ve been there too long.”

After her book launch event for “The Pigment of Your Imagination” in 2007 at Busboys and Poets, Joy Zarembka took her place in the tribe. From vice president of planning and innovation, she became chief operating officer of the company in 2022.

A big part of Busboys and Poets has been the storytelling. Today, with the prevalence of online media platforms and the public’s thirst for unique and engaging digital content, it is imperative that all businesses learn to tell their own story online.

The plan for expanding Busboys and Poets’ social media presence, as all brands should, is to create content “beyond the dish.”

“We want to create a media space that we could really spread everywhere… We got into social media very early on and that allowed us to really build a big audience in various places.”

As a member of the customer advisory council of the Toast point of sale company (with restaurant influencerby Shawn Walchef), Joy uses her influence to bring about positive change for Busboys and Poets and the industry.

“What’s been so amazing is meeting other restaurateurs who have great ideas and are doing things differently,” she said of her time on Toast’s Customer Advisory Board. Toast is also the title sponsor of the Restaurant Influencers Series.

“Just having these conversations has really been the most beneficial because we can take (an idea) and implement it immediately.”

Joy and Busboys have also collaborated with Toast and recruiting firm Indeed on helpful industry content online. It’s all part of our mission to make restaurants and the world a better place.

“I always want to challenge other restaurateurs, and even challenge Toast and others, to think about how do we make sure we have all the different voices in the room? And we can talk about race. We can talk about class , sex, you know, tattooed or not tattooed… whatever you want to talk about…

“At Busboys I often say that if you can smile, you can get a job here.”



Restaurant Influencers is brought to you by Toast, the powerful POS and restaurant management system that helps restaurants improve operations, increase sales, and create a better customer experience.

Toast – Powering successful restaurants. Learn more about Toast.

Leave a Comment