Phyllis Skipwith works behind the counter at Horace and Dickies, a takeout place near H Street owned by Dickie Shannon.
According to a report on D.C. crime in the 1990s from the Institute for Public Safety and Justice at the University of the District of Columbia, the community adjoining Horace and Dickie’s “was euphemistically called ‘Little Saigon’ by people in the neighborhood because of the inadequate street lighting, abandoned vehicles, deteriorated housing and small businesses, a large number of liquor stores, and poor infrastructure of public schools.”
But Shannon held on and built a loyal customer base.
And even with the expansion — some would say saturation — of food outlets in the area, Horace and Dickie’s has thrived, according to Shannon, who is considering expanding his business.
“It’s gotten better because of the mix of people. I get a good mixture of faces coming in,” he said. He would like, at a minimum, to set up outdoor seating, but he has gotten a slow response from the city. “I first asked permission about a year ago. Haven’t heard anything. Time to call them again,” he said.
‘A Lot of Exposure’
This isn’t Shannon’s first foray in the restaurant business. In 1959, he took over the operations of an establishment in his hometown of Atlantic City, N.J., a surf-and-turf joint called Margaret’s, which he ran until 1963.
At that point, he was thinking about a move, as the seaside getaway town had fallen on hard times. He made the move to Washington soon after. For several years, he worked for a Navy contractor, Maxima Corp.
Along the way, he operated another business, a women’s clothing boutique near Eastern Market. Then, in 1989, he and a friend, Charles “Horace” Forman, decided to go into business together and set up their takeout place on 12th Street Northeast.
“Horace was a friend of mine. He was a sportsman, a number-backer before they made numbers legal here,” Shannon said, referring to the D.C. Lottery. Despite Horace’s name being prominently displayed to this day, the partnership in the business didn’t last long.
“I bought him out after six weeks,” Shannon said. “He said, ‘This is too much work, and I’m too old.’” They remained friends, and Shannon stuck with the business name.
One thing that definitely helped Shannon keep pace with some of the changes in the area: The Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food” episode in 2009, when host Adam Richman enthusiastically embraced the jumbo fish sandwich and chewed up the scenery as best he could for his gourmand-heavy viewership.
Since the episode aired on Oct. 21, 2009, Shannon said, there has been an uptick in foodie tourists that he otherwise rarely got.
“Oh, Adam,” Shannon said with a chuckle.
“A lot of people will come in, say, ‘We’re in town from California, and we just had to come.’ ... It’s given us a lot of exposure. That’s been a plus,” he said.
There have been other updates. You can follow Horace and Dickie’s on Twitter. The menu, behind the counter and cash register, is now digital. Shannon installed it last summer, and he plans to eventually provide some multimedia feeds on it so that people don’t get too antsy while they’re waiting in line.