It is us, here again with a new installment of District Spotlight. Our last spotlight featured the Mt. Vernon community gem, World Class Cuts. Like our other spotlights, District Ninja interviewed a business in DC established over ten years ago. For the third spotlight feature, we have chosen New Course Catering & Restaurant, located in Judiciary Square at 500 3rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. New Course formerly known as Third & Eats, has been a long-standing part of the neighborhood since 1991.
Founded by Reverend Thomas J. Knoll, Pastor of First Trinity Lutheran Church, New Course Catering & Restaurant served as a restaurant pioneer in the area more known for being a mini metropolis of government buildings within a city already defined by the government buildings. From 1982-2002, Rev. Knoll served as the Executive Director of Community Life Services, an organization founded in 1969 to advocate for citizens returning from prison or jail.
Serving as a mid-day stalwart in the Judiciary Square neighborhood, drop by any day of the week and you will see a small reflection of the ebb and flow of residents and visitors alike who regularly permeate the area. From your government employee stopping by for a pair of their famous flapjacks as they hustle to work, or your resident stopping by for a quick cup of joe as they look to lobby at the latest zoning ordinance hearing, New Course has been a permanent fixture in the neighborhood for the last 25 years.
As the restaurant business is not one for the weary, New Course has somehow learned the secret sauce to running a successful catering and restaurant business in a sometimes fickle industry. On a foundation of service to both customers and humanity alike, New Course's mission is to serve both wholesome foods to the customer as well as train and employ the homeless and act as a path for them to careers as chefs or chefs assistants. New Course serves as a registered workplace trainee site with the Department of Labor.
Upon walking into New Course, the whiff of buttermilk pancakes sizzling on the griddle, along with the bustling of Manager Marlo’s feet as he quickly hustles towards to the omelet station where he oversees all operations to a seamless hum immediately hits me. At New Course, you are met with bright smiles, witty commentary and some of the best homemade meals at a fraction of the price of some of its neighboring breakfast and lunch spots.
When asked why did he begin New Course, Rev. Knoll effortless responds with “we aimed to find a way to help people help themselves.” For Knoll, he feels that many times the best way we can reflect charity to our fellow man is by providing time and resources that will enable them the ability to thrive in their lives. Whether it is providing adequate access to education, health resources, housing or jobs, Knoll feels that many of the problems that ail our ever increasing communities would improve if more attention focused in these areas. When pulsed regarding the demographic of trainees who comprise of their cohorts, Rev. Knoll notes that roughly 40% of those in attendance are those who are homeless or under-employed. The remaining 60% returning citizens who were formerly in prison or jail. The program is a healthy mix of both men and women participants.
Notwithstanding the increase in commercial development, the population within the area has steadily decreased since 2010, with a little under 1100 residents lost by 2015 with a total of 2,882 inhabitants. This data reflects more than a 31% decline in the population during this time frame.
The swiftness of improving economic development that areas like Judiciary Square can contribute to the changes experienced over the past decade. As he reflected on New Courses’ early years, the DC establishment once enjoyed an endless supply of customers, with lines once spanning down the street, due to being the only kid on the block, during the early 1990s when the area was once known more for its court buildings. With the ever increasing number of new restaurant pop-ups creating more dining options within blocks of each other, New Course has been able to successfully pivot to expanding their catering business to help them survive during leaner times with the 3rd & E Street restaurant. As Rev. Knoll gleefully shared, despite our organization being founded as Christian-based, “our best clients are Jewish Synagogues!” He notes the great sense of support that the community has lent to the group since its inception, sharing that their overall ethos of “to do good” within their given community. He thanks his former head chef, Will Dosher, as being the mastermind many years ago convincing Knoll that the restaurant had the capacity to run a catering business and a growing one at that. Despite having retired and now residing in Europe, Dosher’s commitment to New Course remains as he continues to serve behind the scenes with designing their special occasion menus.
The rising cost of affordable housing throughout the District, particularly within areas central to employment and amenities. All consistently marketed to upwardly mobile professional looking to improve their work-life balance. Now more than ever before, one can literally work, live and play all within a small 2.5 square mile radius.The movement towards a more sustainable lifestyle as described above can be correlated to the increase in the percentage of the neighborhood population with Bachelor and Graduate degrees. As reflected in the Ninja chart below, since 2009, there has been a steady increase in the number of inhabitants with post-High School education. Best reflective amongst those with Bachelor's degrees, over 40% of residents in 2009 had degrees. After bottoming out with nearly a 20% decrease after the American recession hit, the number of residents with degrees has steadily increased since 2010 resting in 2010 at nearly 45%, surpassing it was in 2009.
New Course has established itself as a center of hope and peace, as when asked whether crime has ever impacted the establishment, Reverend Knoll shared that through their 25 years they have been fortunate not to have been a victim of crime. The Ninja reviewed the number of reported crime incidents between 2012-15, which reflected an unusual interval increase and decrease over the four-year span. The year 2015, showing a 20.3% decrease from the previous year. The diagram to the right provides a more in-depth look at the dramatic change in crime incidents within the area between 2014 and 2015 as highlighted above. As reflected, reductions in Burglaries, Sex Abuse, and Thefts made up the lion share of the areas of crime improvements.Theft also appears to be the dominant crime in this immediate area, constituting the overwhelming amount of total crimes for each year from 2012-15.
When asked about lessons learned, Rev. Knoll notes that he would give the prescription that hard work, faith, and patience has been the secret to their success. As he notes, every trainee doesn’t work out, and that is ok. The course definitely has the secret sauce, as they have graduated over 1,000 trainees over the course of their quarter century existence. They have served as an accurate reflection of helping create formidable change in the District by improving countless lives previously marginalized through previous incarceration or economic level. As Rev. Knoll shared, many times New Course serves as an extension of family for many of the trainees.
One recent graduate who entered the program at the tender age of 17, recently shared that moving on to his new opportunity after successfully graduating from the program was bittersweet. As Knoll shared, as he began to feel a tremendous sense of sadness with the impending loss of the family, he grew to know as a cooking novice, now more solidly on the path towards his dream career as a chef. These stories reflect the rich history of New Course. I, have long enjoyed patronizing them for the past 20 years. From being a precocious teenager from North Carolina visiting the establishment formerly known as 3rd & Eats for one of their famous clubs, during one of my many trips to shadow my aunt working next door at USAO. Yes, I must confess the Washington Club has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Little did I know decades later, New Course would become a happy place for me to drop by many mornings. Stories like the above reflect the wonderful history of an establishment founded on principles to do good for its community through food and opportunity. If you feel like doing a little bit of good in your community and supporting great institutions like New Course, think of them for your next catering event or better yet just stop by during the week for one of Marlo’s famous omelets! True to their tagline, “Good Work. Good Eats.”