Buttery & Bittersweet

Ericka Burke Will Sell Volunteer Park Cafe

"I want to pass it on to someone else that will do a beautiful job."

By Allecia Vermillion January 22, 2020

A neighborhood institution with its own garden

Volunteer Park Cafe, a cornerstone of North Capitol Hill since it opened 13 years ago this month, is up for sale. Owner Ericka Burke uses words like "scary" and "weird" to describe her current state, but says she wants to spend more time with her son and her family, and this feels like the right step.

The exact nature of VPC's final chapter isn't yet clear. But it does seem imminent.  For now, the restaurant is open per usual as Burke looks for a buyer who can carry on the sense of community that defines this place. "I want to pass it on to someone else that will do a beautiful job."

The century-old storefront at 17th and Galer has been a brunch mainstay since Burke opened VPC with her then-partner Heather Earnhardt (now of Wandering Goose and the Tokeland Hotel) in 2007. Burke took over the whole show in 2011; flash forward to today—the pastry case is still a destination unto itself, and a melee of young families, neighborhood regulars, and hung over twentysomethings crowd in for breakfast panini and banana brioche french toast on the weekend.

Burke acknowledges her news comes at a moment when an unsettling number of restaurants are closing, including a few like hers that feel particularly meaningful to the city's dining landscape. In her case, she says, the reasons are personal rather than economic. Plus, "I’m 48 years old, schlepping 50-gallon bucket of chicken stock up the stairs is not really my jam anymore."

While the food at VPC is reliably good, thanks in part to the garden out back, it has always stood out for an unusual, genuine, sense of community. "I feel good about letting go," says Burke. "But I feel horrible about the community. Our goal is to find someone to take over and do what we've done."

Change isn't always bad. You could look to Taurus Ox, the new spot from a group of promising chefs who took over the Little Uncle space, as proof that new buyers can build great new chapters. Either way, better hit up that pastry case while you can.

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