By Shayla Martin
Biscuits and politics may not seem like a likely mix, but it was the perfect recipe for the recently launched Mason Dixie Biscuit Company in DC. After two swarmed pop-up events and a successful Kickstarter campaign this summer, best friends Ayeshah Abuelhiga (CEO), Jason Gehring (Executive Chef) and Mo Cherry (Managing Chef) are gearing up to bring even more of their fluffy goodies to the Nation’s Capital this fall. The Local Palate sat down with the Mason Dixie team to discuss DC’s rightful claim as a southern city, their upcoming 4-month stint at restaurant incubator EatsPlace, and of course, the psychology of biscuits.
Why DC for this concept? Did you consider any other cities for Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.?
Ayeshah: We chose DC because we’ve all been residents of the city for multiple years now, with Mo having over 30 years in the area. We all are from Maryland, so we considered opening there, but it just doesn’t have that vibrant food scene that DC does. In the last couple years, DC has developed a vibrant start-up scene, regardless of what kind of start-up it is. It’s the perfect place to do business. People really appreciate food and there’s a lot of creativity out here right now. It was a no-brainer.
What do you think has been the biggest change to the DC food scene over the last 10 years?
Ayeshah: I would say that there wasn’t much of a food scene until seven or eight years ago. DC struggled because it was an in-and-out city and people lived in Maryland and Virginia. By 5 p.m. it was a dead place. The reality is that we’ve been fortunate that DC is so transient. We bring people from all over the world and as a result, people have been craving little pieces of their culture. It started with an international food cuisine, then Southern culture was forgotten a little bit, but it’s starting to make a come back with Art & Soul, Southern Efficiency and other little focal point restaurants.
Be honest, do you consider DC to be the South?
Mo: Well, I just explained our concept to a coworker of mine from the South because she asked “Why the name Mason Dixie?” I told her that we’re all from Maryland, which technically lies below the Mason Dixon line, and if you look at the classic foods of this area like peaches or barbecue, they still pretty much hold true to the South.
That actually leads perfectly into my next question, as it relates to biscuits as comfort food. There was a Washington Post article from 2012 titled “The Psychology of Cupcakes” that detailed the popular cupcake trend. The story quoted a Los Angeles therapist who claimed that people buy cupcakes because they’re “hungry for hugs” or some kind of self-soothing agent. Do you think the same could be said for biscuits and DC residents, especially its political folk? Why do you think DC has been so welcoming to its first biscuit shop?
Ayeshah: It’s interesting that you bring up this question because through Kickstarter, we had an amazing opportunity to really connect with people. In the last couple of weeks we’ve gotten amazing direct messages from some of our pledges. Last night we got a message from one of our backers who said that she picked one of the create-your-own-spread reward gifts because it made her think of her grandmother. She said her grandmother “was an amazing baker and chef, and she had a great recipe for a mixed berry jam. It means the world to me that you all would give me the opportunity to commemorate something like that for my family.” We get these nostalgic notes from people all the time. It just tells you that there is a little bit of that hug, that grandma’s favorite grandchild, and that “back in the day when I was young and carefree,” all in a biscuit.
Let’s talk about the future of Mason Dixie. Has an opening date been finalized with your residency at EatsPlace?
Ayeshah: EatsPlace is still under construction right now, but they’re tentatively opening on September 15. Our pop-up will run through January as it’s a four-month stint from the day that they open. In the meantime we’ll be looking for a permanent brick-and-mortar space in DC
So does the Kickstarter money fund the EatsPlace residency and then a brick-and-mortar location is a larger goal?
Ayeshah: That funding is seed money to get us going on the EatsPlace pop-up. In the meantime we are going to be securing private loans and some small, private investments from outside investors, and we’ve used our own money to the extent that we can. With our opportunity at EatsPlace, we’ll have four months worth of data to show banks and investors that customers come to us consistently. We can work on our business plan and our business model, so the Kickstarter money is more than just pop-up money, it’s literally providing us the opportunity to prove our business plan and secure the rest of the financing that we need for a permanent home.
EatsPlace residency – September 2014 to January 2015, Monday through Friday
The Emporiyum Food Market, Union Market – November 15 and 16