Christine Lilyea wasn't sure what her life plans were going to be when she got her start in the food business at 16 working at a coffee shop. At 19, she became a bike messenger for five years in DC, and then a stay-at-home mom for another five years. Her focus when she was younger was on the "now," what she needed to do. Her future as the owner of Slash Run, the popular burger joint and music venue at 201 Upshur Street NW, was far out into the future, but it was her choices that led her here.
"I became a waitress when my son went to school, and later, started managing Villain & Saint in Bethesda." While working at the restaurant and music venue, she was working with customers solving an issue, when the director of operations came up to her and said, "‘This is kinda your dream job, isn't it?’ And that's when I realized, yeah, this IS my dream job, to run a music venue."
Christine started working at Slash Run for Jackie Greenbaum and Gordon Banks in 2016, managing the restaurant. "When they started it, I think they wanted it to be a burger mecca, and a restaurant. Now, it's definitely a restaurant, but it's definitely a music venue. We have touring bands coming through — we have Richie Ramone coming on May 14th. It's just one of those places, it's an unexpected treasure."
Stop by Slash Run and you might find Legs McNeil doing a reading, a local ska band just killing it, a Ramone showing up, or other "strange but amazing things here." Christine revels in what can happen, and likes that almost anything can — as long as it's entertaining and brings art and music into the house.
Even Trumps’ prior personal lawyer Ty Cobb (the one with the handlebar mustache) stopped by with a wedding party, and stayed to rock out at a punk show in July 2018. You never know what you’ll find.
"It's the same with the burgers," she said. "There's all different kinds of flavors and toppings, and craft beers from around the country. You're going to come in here and see things you'd never expect at this little corner in the neighborhood."
Christine didn't expect to own a music venue, let alone Slash Run.
"When I was managing, Jackie said ‘do whatever you want there, make it yours.’ She trained me to be an owner for the two years I was working for her."
Christine worked hard to learn what needed to be done. She wasn't just the manager, she was the events booker, a bartender, a server, bookkeeper, marketing... she ran it all. And still is.
On April 30, 2018, that dream came true when she bought the restaurant from Jackie and Gordon. She's made the place her own, focusing on booking more music than they had before. "My love of music comes from rock and roll, from the Ramones, comes from 70’s style of rock and roll, New York Dolls. I like the glam and the power pop, Paul Collins and the Nerds."
She likes to support the hardcore punk scene in DC, and is thrilled to host the preshow of the Damaged City event at Slash Run on April 11th. "It's going to be huge and awesome!"
Christine finds booking and hosting events comes naturally to her, but found her biggest challenge was running a kitchen and all the things that go along with it. When Jackie sold Slash Run to Christine, she took her kitchen staff with her. "I had to get a new staff — it took me a year, but now I have a dedicated team who care about this place, they care about the quality of the food as much as I do."
She obsesses over the details, and wants the food to match her ideal. "All I know is how I would want it, which is fresh, something you look at and want to eat. And that's how we should serve."
She manages both the kitchen and the front of the house, 11 employees — a lot work. "But I'm up for it," she says. "I didn't know this was going to be as difficult as it is, but I just don't stop. I keep going. As long as I keep pushing, pushing for events, it works."
The restaurant slumped for a time during the ownership transition, and Christine says she works hard to keep things improving. Business is back up and doing well, and the events help, she said. "People come from all around We've even had people come up from Richmond for the shows," she said.
The neighborhood has long supported Slash Run — who doesn't love burgers? — and as the restaurant transitioned more into a music venue, Christine said she still sees that support. "It helps that the neighborhood is dedicated to Slash Run, love coming here. Obviously, we couldn't do it without them."
Like most of the women we've interviewed for this Women of Upshur series, Christine knows well the feeling when a vendor — usually a man — comes into the restaurant and starts talking to the male chef as if he's the owner. "Or I'll be sitting with a guy when someone comes in and asks to speak to the owner, and they come up and start talking to him, when I'm sitting right there."
That aside, she finds Petworth extremely supportive, welcoming and equalizing. Now that she owns Slash Run she's looking to live here. "I want to be closer to the business, plus, I like the neighborhood!"
Looking into the near future, expect to see an outdoor patio coming along Upshur Street that will seat up to 18, with food and bar service. She also puts on movies and shows on the big projector screen for kids.
"Slash Run got a bad stigma a few years ago about kids, and that breaks my heart. There's been less children coming in — more of a hipster crowd. But we want to give parents a break, the kids are watching TV and the parents can actually talk to each other. My son loves coming here, he loves the burgers here, and I want people to know that their children are welcome here."
Her son, who's 11, comes at least once a week. His favorite burger is the "Juicy Loosey," a burger with cheese stuffed inside it. (I'm a big fan of the Morning Glory: applewood smoked bacon, fried egg, jalapeño cream cheese, maple syrup aioli. It's so good.)
"Now we're doing hot dogs," she said, "You can do the hot dogs like the burgers, and the Morning Glory hot dog is crazy good! It seems very weird, but it's one of my favorites and getting ordered a lot."
Slash Run is still very dedicated to their food, as much as being a music venue. Christine loves running both, and being known for both. She wants Slash Run to be known as a local burger joint AND a great place for music. With passion for both like Christine has, it’s definitely there.
Ed Note: This is the last story in a what has been a wonderful series about the women entrepreneurs and business owners along Upshur Street. Petworth News appreciates all the phenomenal women who work hard to make their businesses a success in our neighborhood, and have graciously given us a peek inside their busy lives.
The two biggest takeaways from this series… if you want it, dream about it, then go do it. There might be extra, unfair challenges because you’re a woman, and/or a person of color, or just life getting in the way. There’s micro-aggressions and stereotypes to overcome, or at least deal with, that don’t really go away. But there’s also fulfillment to be found, achievement, and finding happiness to go along with your hard work. Making your dreams come true isn’t easy, and remains hard work, but from talking with these women, it sure feels great.