25 Most Unexpected People in Georgetown

From Monica Lewinsky’s former hairdresser to an Exorcist expert, an octogenarian ceramicist, and a former hip hop promoter turned sneakerhead entrepreneur, here are the surprising stories behind some of the most unique people in Georgetown.

The Soap Operative Stars

Daniel Doll & David Simnick
Founders, Soapbox

In 2009, David Simnick graduated from American University and began working as a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development. Although great strides were being made in global water and sanitation work, he noticed less of a focus on hygiene. David returned to the U.S. and audited an entrepreneurship course, where he partnered with classmate Daniel Doll to write a business plan for their final project. Out of that came Soapbox, a social-mission soap company and economic engine that is providing the resources to improve global hygiene.

Read their story below to learn more, including the pitch meeting with Target that could have ended in disaster, the moment in Haiti when Daniel and David first put a face to their work, and where their millions of bars of donated soap have gone.

The Cat Whisperer

Kanchan Singh
Founder, Crumbs & Whiskers Cat Cafe

Five hours before her flight home, on her 24th birthday, Kanchan Singh walked into a Thai cat café and felt like she’d been hit by a brick wall. That night she mapped out an entire business plan on a stack of United napkins, landed in the States, and quit her job.

Read Kanchan’s story below to learn more, including why she ultimately chose her true passion over cultural expectations and parental pressure, how she proved everyone who thought she was a “dumb Millennial chick” incredibly wrong, and why adoption is at the center of it all. For even more unexpected stories from her life, you can also check out Kanchan’s book, Dear Me, I Love You.

The God of Wine

Bassam Al-Kahouaji
Owner, Bacchus Wine Cellar

One hundred and fifty Syrian wedding dresses hang in a temperature-controlled storage facility in DC, one of the largest single collections in the world. They belong to Bassam Al-Kahouaji, the congenial owner of Bacchus Wine Cellar in Book Hill. If you couldn’t tell, this is a man of varied passions.

Read Bassam’s story below to learn more, including why he left the Middle East with his family and started a business in Georgetown, the one “chemical” wine he refuses to carry, and his future plans to write a book.

The Movie Location Manager

Carol Flaisher
Georgetown Movie Location Manager

Carol Flaisher watched a man jump out of a Georgetown Park window. He landed on the Dean & DeLuca plaza, pushed a cop off a horse, and rode down M Street. Everything had gone according to plan. “Arnold Schwarzenegger was filming a scene for True Lies, and it was a knockout. All of Georgetown was involved in that one.”

Read Carol’s story below to learn more, including how she went from a Rockville housewife with two young children to being on set with Meryl Streep, the full-circle experience she had on the Wonder Woman set in Georgetown, and who she considers the “loveliest, friendliest” actor of them all.

The Tea Connoisseur

Hollie Wong
Owner, Ching Ching Cha

Amid Georgetown’s third-wave coffee explosion is an airy Chinese teahouse that has stood the test of trends for two decades. Ching Ching Cha owner Hollie Wong embodies the spirit of the space – an infectious serenity emanating from her whenever she pours piping-hot tea into a decorative porcelain cup.

Read Hollie’s story below to learn more, including how a trip to Paris served as an unlikely source of inspiration for the Hong Kong native, why the Chinese never talk about tea, and how she feels when she walks into Ching Ching Cha every morning.

The Advisor to NFL Stars

Adisa Bakari
Founder, The Sports & Entertainment Group

While everyone else is telling NFL players they can walk on water, Adisa Bakari is telling it to them straight. With eight out of every 10 players ending their careers in financial despair, the native Washingtonian founded his company to counsel them into prosperity.

Read Adisa’s story below to learn more, including why it’s often easier for players to manage cyclical poverty than wealth, the epiphany he had at a Washington Football Team game, and why the worst place for advice is the locker room.

The Hip-Hop Promoter Turned Sneakerhead

Duk-ki Yu
Owner, MAJOR

Days after his family emigrated from Seoul in 1980, 12-year-old Duk-ki Yu picked up a pair of Adidas Country runners. He’d only seen select athletes wearing Adidas in Korea, and now they were his first name-brand sneakers – the start of the pervasive culture shock Duk-ki would experience in California, as well as a lifelong passion.

Read Duk-ki’s story below to learn more, including how the sneaker and street wear boutique owner made a name for himself in the early 90s hip hop scene promoting records and outfitting artists, why a brilliant eBay scheme involving teenage sneakerheads and the likes of Swiss Beatz planted the seed for his own store, and the Caps shoe he designed with Reebok that transcended fashion.

The Beer Trailblazer

Drew McCormick
Beer Director, Pizzeria Paradiso

Men drink beer, women sell it on billboards. That’s the stereotype Drew McCormick is trying to break. She became Pizzeria Paradiso’s first female Beer Director in 2017, and has spent the past several years championing women in the industry.

Read Drew’s story below to learn more, including her favorite beer memory, the challenges that come with writing menu descriptions for 250+ brews (this one’s also grapefruit-y), and the beer than will convert even the most loyal of wine enthusiasts.

The Booking Agent for Grammy Winners

Arash Shirazi
President, The Bullitt Agency

Inside Donatella Versace’s Lake Como villa, Arash Shirazi was mingling with Jennifer Lopez, every supermodel imaginable, and a handful of actors who’d frequented the pages of Vanity Fair, wondering how the hell he’d even gotten there. Just five years prior, the Rockville native was fresh out of college and working in CNN’s video news department, and now he was deep in the music scene.

Read Arash’s story below to learn more, including how an opportunity to represent rising DJ duo Deep Dish led to an unexpected career, what it was like when they won a Grammy, and how the ‘commodification’ of dance music completely changed the industry.

The Volunteer Restoring a Historic Black Cemetery

Dr. Thornell Page
Head of Building and Cemetery Committee, Mt. Zion United Methodist

Broken gravestones mark the bodies of enslaved residents, freedmen and (mostly) African-American citizens at Mt. Zion / Female Union Band Society Cemetery in Georgetown. To the left, perfectly manicured Oak Hill cemetery honors prominent whites. “You look at our cemetery and you look at Oak Hill, and you have to ask the question: Why is this?” says Dr. Thornell Page, who is leading the cemetery’s restoration, and commemorating those who are interred there.

Read Dr. Page’s story below to learn more, including how he helped prevent a real estate developer from using the site to build apartments, the cemetery’s link to the Underground Railroad, and why the restoration is an important lesson for a country in danger of repeating the same mistakes.

The Punk Boutique Owner Who Befriended Andy Warhol

Wendy Ezrailson
Owner, REDDz Trading

At a dinner party one night, Wendy Ezrailson sat next to some guy she didn’t know. He was nice, and they talked the entire evening – but she never caught his name. “Later on this girl said, ‘Wow, you got to sit next to T.I.!’’ As the co-owner and buyer of two Georgetown retail institutions before opening consignment shop Reddz Trading – named after her signature hair color – Wendy has been sharing the room with celebrities and fashion icons for decades.

Read Wendy’s story below to learn more, including the milestone she personally marked with Andy Warhol, the one item that sells instantly at her shop, and how she got a Hollywood Walk of Fame star.

The Exorcist Expert

Andrew Huff
Exorcist Expert

Ask Andrew Huff about Georgetown’s most famous horror movie, and he’ll stop you right there. See, technically, The Exorcist isn’t a horror film. It’s a film about the crisis of faith. Andrew would know. The DC resident and local Exorcist expert holds all the secrets from the 1973 filming in Georgetown, and he’s ready to share.

Read Andrew’s story below to learn more, including just how much padding was on those 75 infamous stairs for the climax, and why the movie is an important catalyst for changing outsiders’ perceptions of DC. Faith aside, he also admits the movie is pretty terrifying.

The Caretaker of North America's Oldest House Plant

Melissa Brizer
Greenhouse Specialist, Dumbarton Oaks

Inside of the Dumbarton Oaks orangery grows a 150-year-old Ficus pumila – the oldest house plant in North America. Melissa Brizer’s job is to keep it alive. And you think your job is stressful?!

Read Melissa’s story below to learn more, including why she went from paralegal to plants, the most exciting (and famous) visitor she’s met, and how she’s carrying on a legacy that began with another woman a century prior.

The Robert Frost Impersonator

Dwane Starlin
Georgetown Tour Guide & Historian

On any given day, Dwane Starlin also answers to Robert Frost, Mark Twain and John Philip Sousa. The Georgetown tour guide, historian and one-man act has a story for just about every block in town. Oh, and he also plays a kazoo.

Read Dwane’s story below to learn more, including how he brings to life the people and places that shaped Georgetown, his favorite stop on every tour, and how his mother’s work at a pioneer museum in Nebraska inspired his career path.

The Fashion Photographer

Foster White
Photographer, Tuckernuck

Foster White likes to browse the women’s section of a clothing boutique. The young photographer has made an early career shooting women’s fashion and finds the clothing “completely beautiful” – with inspiration at every turn.

Read Foster’s story below to learn more, including why enrolling in a studio class with people “quadruple” his age led to a lucky break, how he connects with his subjects through music, and the role Georgetown plays as the backdrop for his fashion shoots.

The Octogenarian Ceramicist

Jill Hinckley
Owner, Hinckley Pottery

If your pottery knowledge begins and ends at that Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore scene from Ghost, it’s time for a lesson. Meet Jill Hinckley, who – at the age of 84 – can throw a pot in five minutes. She’s been behind the wheel for over 55 years, and can be found in her Georgetown studio most days, next to Blues Alley.

Read Jill’s story below to learn more, including her definition of getting “glurpy”, why mink coats and mud don’t mix, and her go-to holiday gift – which you can probably guess. (If you want to play Unchained Melody while you read it, go ahead.)

The Macaron Maker

Ana Claudia Lopez
Owner, Olivia Macaron

Ana Claudia Lopez has the most colorful job in all of Georgetown, but life wasn’t always bite-sized rainbows. In 2008, it was black and white, and increasingly grim – working as a financial analyst at Freddie Mac just in time for the financial crisis to hit.

Read Ana Claudia’s story below to learn more, including why her daughter’s birth – and a trip to a French patisserie – inspired a complete career change, what it was like running a new business with a one-month-old in tow, and the secret to the macaron craze.

The Cigar Chaser

David Berkebile
Owner, Georgetown Tobacco

Smoke, but no mirrors – David Berkebile is the real deal. He was smoking a pipe in his 20s when he came up with the idea to open a tobacco shop in Georgetown, and has been in business for 57 years since then.

Read David’s story below to learn more, including how many cigars he smokes per week, his childhood memories of Georgetown – then a blue-collar farming town – and the special cigar blend he created during a trip to Honduras. Oh, and those after-hours poker, chess and backgammon games he hosts above his shop, for a few lucky regulars.

The Thai Food Titan

Aulie Bunyarataphan
Owner & Chef, Bangkok Joe’s

Aulie Bunyarataphan sat in her grandmother’s Bangkok kitchen every morning, watching as she religiously planned and made four meals a day. Young Aulie didn’t have any interest in cooking, unaware that she’d one day serve the very same chicken buns in her own Georgetown restaurant.

Read Aulie’s story below to learn more, including how her dream of becoming a fashion designer evolved into cooking, why food critics weren’t initially receptive to Aulie changing the face of Thai food, and how nuns at a French convent school influenced a major career decision.

The Politico Piano Man

Jay Angoff
Dueling Piano Player, Georgetown Piano Bar

Every Saturday, a group of young 20-somethings shouts a spirited chorus of ‘ba, ba, baa’s.’ They have no idea the man behind the piano is behind their health insurance, too. By night, Jay Angoff moonlights as one of the regular dueling piano performers at Georgetown Piano Bar, along with Hunter Lang. By day, he’s one of the biggest health care reform players in town.

Read Jay’s story below to learn more about the musician / class-action litigator, including how he once oversaw the office responsible for crafting the Affordable Care Act’s Patient’s Bill of Rights under the Obama Administration, why playing Sweet Caroline is a lot more fun than that, and the most requested songs – no matter the crowd. (Spoiler alert: One of them is, in fact, Sweet Caroline.)

The Tattoo Artist

Liana Joy
Tattoo Artist, Jinx Proof Tattoos

Liana Joy cut school with her best friend, chalked her ID, filled a 7-Eleven Slurpee cup with beer and rode the train into Manhattan to get her first tattoo. At 16, she was hooked – and on the path to becoming one of the most sought-after artists at Jinx Proof Tattoos.

Read Liana’s story below to learn more, including what it’s like working in a male-dominated field, the first tattoo she ever gave (it’s perfectly nostalgic), and who she was most reluctant to ink.

The Hairdresser to DC's Scandals

Terry Bell
Co-Founder, Salon ILO

For every magazine, press conference, and 20/20 special that Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp were in as the 90s came to a scandalous close, someone had to do their hair. “The Clintons were a great time for us,” says Terry Bell, the affable Brit and co-founder of Book Hill’s Salon ILO. “I had BBC Radio phoning me up at three in the morning asking for a quote. I was quoted in The Guardian as the hairdresser to the fallen women of Washington.”

Read more about Terry’s story below, including how he got his start as a 16-year-old apprentice in London, the salon’s laundry list of celebrity clients, and why he doesn’t cut his own wife’s hair.

The PR Maven

Aba Kwawu
Founder & President, TAA PR

Aba Kwawu was going to have a life in medicine. Her family immigrated to the United States from Ghana when she was a child. Aba had dreams of working in the style industry, but coming from a traditional culture, her father – a scientist – wanted one of his two children to follow suit. She did, for a while, then decided to move to London and pursue her true passion.

Read Aba’s story below to learn more, including the moment on M Street that changed the course of her life, how she battles Impostor syndrome, and why she finally dropped the false notion of a work-life balance – and the ‘mommy guilt’ that came with it.

The Falafel Founder Helping Refugees

Ahmad Ashkar
Founder, Falafel Inc.

In high school, Ahmad Ashkar bought a $9 falafel sandwich in DC. It was – in his words – bullshit. “It’s fried chickpeas, it doesn’t need to be that expensive. I was like, If I ever move to DC, I’m gonna open a badass falafel shop and make it super cheap.” Spoiler alert: He did just that.

Read more about Ahmad’s story below, including what it was like growing up as the only Arab family in Leavenworth, Kansas, why he broke all the food rules to sell a $3 sandwich college students can afford, and how his business is helping refugees.

The Rare Book Appraiser

Caroline Willis
Book Appraiser, Lantern Bookshop

Caroline Willis’ job is to forget that adage we were all taught as children. As an old and rare book appraiser for Georgetown’s Lantern Bookshop, she’s all about judging a book by its cover. Yet there’s more than meets the eye with this funny Southerner, who is as interesting as the characters on her bookshelves.

Read Caroline’s story below to learn more, including the classic novels she seriously undersold, how a group of Bryn Mawr alumnae “angels” saved their P St building, and the former DC politician who may have been “too hopped up on sweet tea” to legibly autograph a book.

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