Alumni / May 16, 2018

Collision of Art, Culture, Politics

Andy Shallal, Executive MBA '19

Andy Shallal, Executive MBA '19

Conversation mixes with music as the lunch crowd fills Busboys and Poets on a recent weekday. Books by local authors fill store shelves near the entrance. Paintings by local artists cover the walls. On tap is a full lineup of weekend entertainment: A poetry slam on Friday, the DC Funk Parade on Saturday, and a screening of “Served Like a Girl” on Sunday with guests from the documentary about homeless women veterans.

Andy Shallal, EMBA ’19, founder and owner of the Washington hotspot, feels right at home as he surveys the scene. The restaurant, bookstore and performance venue at 14th Street and V Street NW represents the inclusive gathering place he struggled to find when he immigrated with his parents from Iraq in 1966.

“It is a response to my experience coming to America the first time — being able to find that place where I could feel connected by feeling represented,” he says. “So I wanted a place that is uplifting, where you come in — no matter what background or race or ethnicity you are — you feel a sense of belonging.”

Shallal opened the restaurant and bookstore in 2005, and since then he has added five additional locations from Arlington, Va., to Hyattsville, Md. The chain’s success has been gratifying, but Shallal is not done growing as an entrepreneur and leader. 

“If you stop growing, you are no longer a leader,” he says.

That is why he chose the executive MBA program at the Smith School. “I could have gone anywhere,” he says. “But I chose to go to Smith because I felt like it was really the strongest program for a leader to be able to engage in.”

As a working professional who attends weekend classes in College Park, Shallal has an opportunity to apply his business education immediately.

“Every weekend that I spend in school, I bring back information literally on Monday to my team,” he says. “They know. They’ve been waiting like every week when I come. They are like, ‘What have you learned today?’ And I share it with them.”

Shallal, who was 10 when he arrived in the United States with no English ability, says the culture shock is what drove him toward art and other individual activities.

“Middle school is already a very complicated place for a teenager-to-be,” he says. “You know they’re going through so much growth and so many hormones and so many things going on. And now you’ve got this new element introduced — language and culture and everything else you have to maneuver and deal with.”

Shallal eventually emerged in a big way. He graduated from Catholic University of America, attended medical school at Howard University, and worked as a medical researcher at the National Institutes of Health.

He also ran for Washington mayor in 2014, founded the Peace Ball inaugural balls, and painted three Washington murals. The largest, at the Institute for Policy Studies on 16th street NW, is several hundred square feet.

“I love everything that I do,” Shallal says. “Every day is a new day for me. It really is.” /DJ/

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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