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James McLaughlin's Food Cart, Howard University - Retired After 43 Years of Service

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"You like onions?"

I'm standing in front of James McLaughlin today at Howard University, watching him ladle me up a cup of chicken dumpling soup. I had just come from one of the three Coco Bread carts near the School of Business, and Mr. McLaughlin's Food Cart was my last stop. After this, I'll have visited every establishment featured in the program "Neighborhood Eats," televised on WETA Thursday evening at 8 PM.

I approached the food cart on the corner of 6th Street and Howard Place, and saw a man quietly going about his business, a senior citizen. We nodded hello, and I asked, "Are you Mr. McLaughlin?"

He looked at me in a guarded way, and said, "Yes."

I introduced myself, and said "I heard you're going to be on TV this week."

He then smiled and became animated. 'Oh! When is that going to be?' We began chatting about the show, and then I mentioned that I'd like to buy some lunch. I had heard he sold soups that his wife makes, and he walked me around to the side of the food cart, where he had three different vats of soup. Chicken and dumplings, that was the one for me.

He grabbed a paper coffee cup, opened one of the vats, and began ladling in some soup.

"You like onions?"


"Good. That's how I like mine. It really brings it to life," he says, spooning some diced raw onion on top, sticking on a lid, and handing me the cup. We chat some more.

"I've been working at this same cart for 35 years." Before that he was across campus selling ice cream out of a truck.

"When did you first come to Howard?"


"Why did you come here?"

'I had a gas station on Benning Road. They burned it down in the riots. So I went out and bought a truck, and I've been here ever since.'

In the meantime, a couple of younger girls come up, relatives or friends of Mr. McLaughlin, and overhear us talking. It's time for me to go, and as I'm walking away, they ask me again when the show is to be aired.

"8 PM this Thursday night."

'Good. I'll make sure not to watch it - I don't want to see his face any more than I have to!' She's laughing.

I get into my car and flip open the lid of the soup. Driving away down Georgia Avenue, I take a sip, nod my head, smile to myself and think, 'Good call on the onions, Mr. McLaughlin.'

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I liked the experience (he says, six years later) which I researched for WETA at the same time I did Rebecca Roberts' radio show (in true "Don fashion," I was determined to have experienced all 38 restaurants (phew!) WETA featured by the time I went on the air). And I'm sad, but not surprised, to read that Mr. McLaughlin retired this past spring after 43 years.

BTW, I'm going to go ahead and include this as one of the Oldest Restaurants in the Area.

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