For many outsiders, D.C. seems like the city equivalent of a shiny, mylar Fourth of July pinwheel; emblazoned nationalism and corporate sprawl in place of culture and dynamic communities. Unfavorable reputations of the area spread far and wide, though the city seems more harshly criticized by residents of neighboring states and cities, like Richmond and Baltimore. Shortly after I moved to the city, I found a part-time job at Maketto: a concept space housing high-end men’s retail, modern Cambodian and Taiwanese cuisine, and a full-scale coffee shop serving locally-founded Vigilante Coffee. A space that’s opening was highly anticipated for years before its April 2015 reveal, and one that’s now been reviewed and praised by publications, awards committees and patrons alike. And for many, a glistening window into a city with so much rich culture, largely unappreciated or recognized by any outside forces. The idea of three businesses under one roof can seem daunting but like a well-greased machine, Maketto strives to operate seamlessly. For a first-time visitor, a victory lap around the two-story indoor/outdoor space is essential. The indoor space feels photogenically minimal and expertly organized, while the outdoor space feels more open and communal. One of the most stunning features of the building is the glass-doored open kitchen, seating patrons near the action during both lunch and dinner. The daytime vibe feels showroom, meets bustling co-working space, meets power lunch haven. Nighttime feels cooler; dimly lit, pleasantly packed and aromatic everywhere. Maketto’s location adds to its significance. It’s been two years since The Washington Post declared H St NE a “corridor reborn.” As the Eastern-most anchor of D.C., before crossing the Anacostia Bridge, H St is finally on the upswing of a hard-earned come up. As many well-intending Uber drivers assure passengers, it’s an area they wouldn’t have dropped you off in 10 years ago; an area knee deep in the consequences of rapid gentrification, but still optimistic with the promise of inclusive community for nearby residents. The passions of Maketto’s partners are blatantly present in the offerings found in each section of the space. Co-founders Erik Bruner-Yang and Will Sharp (who coincidentally happens to be the former college roommate of none other than Ledbury's CEO, Paul Trible) act as respective ambassadors of D.C.’s culinary and retail communities, locally sourcing the talented partners and organizations with whom they work. Both are deeply-rooted and invested in D.C. Bruner-Yang, former chef of the cult-D.C. favorite,Toki Underground, continues to expand his culinary reach throughout the city, with the likes of Honeycomb Grocer in Union Market, Paper Horse at the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods, and an upcoming project with the new Line Hotel, in Adams Morgan. Sharp, who built the independent D.C.-based clothing brand DURKL, has contributed to the city’s mounting counter-culture movement over the past 11 years. They service unique tastes of the D.C. community that have otherwise gone unmet, and bring an offering to the Northeast quadrant that casually announces, “We’re here, and we’d really love it if you joined us.” More than anything, the magnetism of this unique concept lies in its ability to bring talented individuals together. Hustle is palpable in the air, and is used to everyone’s advantage as a driving force to continue building culture in this city. Be it employees, patrons, friends or family of Maketto, if a directory existed of all the creative people that have touched the space in one form or another, it’d be astronomically diverse and exciting. Dom Adams, Maketto’s Retail Director, touches on just how integral creatives are to their existence, “In the early days of traveling to source various parts of the project, we would find people from the area literally in every city we would visit. We started to think, if all of these folks have to leave the D.C. area to do the very things they love…then hey, let’s wave the flag and say D.C. matters in the creative community, and you can make a living without migrating.” So waving the flag they are, Maketto is highlighting the city’s creative class and adding fresh vibrancy along the way. I’m probably biased, but I think they’re succeeding.
Words by Sara E. Mason. Sara E. Mason is a writer from rural Virginia, living in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @masonesara. Photos by Rey Lopez, courtesy of Maketto.
May 26, 2016 — Mel Calabro