DC 8 small business spotlight: Caribbean Citations, Ward 8’s community-driven eatery

The DC 8 Spotlight Series features small business owners throughout the District of Columbia - representing each of the eight wards - who are all signatories to a letter of support for Airbnb in DC.

Meet Mike.

Mike Sterling is the owner and esteemed Jamaican food aficionado of the East of the River local hotspot, Caribbean Citations. By developing relationships with Airbnb hosts in the Historic Anacostia neighborhood, Caribbean Citations has become a go-to recommendation for Airbnb guests who visit the area, driving powerful economic impact into an area of the city that does not typically benefit from tourism dollars.

Originally hailing from Detroit, Mike relocated to the DC metro area in 2011. Bringing a hard-working attitude and entrepreneurial spirit with him, Mike hit the ground running and set out to find a restaurant space to set up shop. Through networking in the community, Mike was able to take over a spot from the previous owners. “They came up with an idea for monthly installments and I’d be responsible for the place,” he explained. “I took all my money out of my pension to completely gut it and got a grant from the government to help me reface the front.” That place would come to be known as the now famous Big Chair Coffee and Grill.

As manager of Big Chair, Mike began to incorporate Caribbean cuisine into the menu, a nod to his Jamaican roots. When the previous owners wanted the restaurant back, Mike lost everything he’d worked so hard to achieve. “How was I going to pay my bills?” he thought.

After working tirelessly to get back on his feet and focusing on putting a formal business plan together, Mike knew he could run a restaurant and make his dream happen once again in DC’s Historic Anacostia neighborhood. “I can do this,” he told himself. “All I need is four walls and a niche.” That niche, Mike realized, had to do with traffic citations. “Police officers around here are writing tickets all the time,” he explained. “What if I give people discounts when they get a traffic ticket? They can come into the restaurant when they’re having a bad day, enter the raffle and whoever wins gets their ticket paid for.”

Within 24 hours of securing a spot with a commercial kitchen, Mike transformed the place into a Caribbean restaurant, cooking up favorites like jerk chicken and oxtail. He made flyers that said “Mike’s back!” and held a huge grand opening in April 2015. And just like that, Caribbean Citations became the new go-to spot East of the River.

Mike prides himself on establishing strong relationships with locals and other business owners in the area. “All the business owners on the block respect me. Everyone wants to shake my hand or give me a hug,” he said. Mike has also become a local favorite of Airbnb hosts in the area who often recommend Caribbean Citations to their guests. “Building relationships is the best form of advertisement. It’s the best way to make business move,” he said.

Giving back to the community has been a cornerstone of Mike’s business model. In addition to the citation raffle, Mike throws community-based events in partnership with a local church, providing free food and drinks to locals. “A lot of people don’t have much, especially in this neighborhood,” he explained.