Henry’s Soul Cafe on U Street Damaged by Fire


A reader sends the terrible news:

“Sad morning news. Henry’s Soul Cafe at 17th and U — noted for sweet potato pies — looks to be destroyed by a fire. Several engines responded and U was closed in both directions.”

From @IAFF36 around 6:45am:

“Building Fire – 1704 U St NW – 1-story commercial bldg, smoke showing #DCFD #dctraffic

Update – 1704 U St NW – fire knocked down, checking for extension, searches negative #DCFD”

From @DCPoliceDept at 7:53am:

“UPDATE: The 1600-1800 Blocks of U Street, NW are NOW OPEN “

53 Comment

  • This is so sad! I love Henry’s for their bread pudding and friendly staff. I hope nobody was hurt, and that they’re back in business very soon.

  • justinbc

    The inside of that place smelled like decades of grease that had never been cleaned, and there was always smoke inside. It’s sad to hear (even though I was not a fan of their food), but I can’t say I’m surprised given the way the place was kept.

    • You make it sound like that’s a bad thing.

      • justinbc

        It depends on your point of view I suppose. If I’m working in conditions where flames are more quickly accelerated due to years of improper operations, then I would consider that a bad thing for me. But hey if it makes your french fries taste better…

        • ugh, just stop.

        • Seriously dude, STFU.

        • Um, don’t really need a “retort” other than you are being a gross human being this morning. Just give it a rest, this is a sad event regardless.

          • justinbc

            Gross human being, by being one of multiple people to point out the poor sanitary conditions that existed at this place? Hyperbole much? I could have straight bashed their food, because it was really terrible, but I chose to stay on topic and discuss the issues that likely caused or exacerbated the actual fire. And, as I stated, even though I didn’t personally care for the business I’m sad to see it go because now many people are out of a job.

          • Owner of anywhere: “My livelihood and my life’s work has been consumed by flames”
            Justin: “it was really greasy and I didn’t like the food; too bad, bro.”

        • You dish it out Justin on the reg, you gotta be able to take it…

        • justinbc

          Does yours? If we’re making unfounded assumptions, you would have to be reading all day, every day, in order to see my posts. And considering there are lots of topics I completely skip because they’re not of interest to me, you would have to read all those too, just to determine whether or not I’m posting.

  • The only place where you would get chunks of pork backfat in your eggs. Lived in the group house next door for years when I first moved to DC (aka “The SAIS Mansion”), Henry’s was always a favorite spot. My guess is that Rob (the owner of all the buildings on this corner) will knock it down and re-build.

  • Ohh go away Justin. I will miss this place, really great people and delicious food that reminded me of home. Hopefully the kind staff will find work elsewhere, bummer.

    Can’t find any information, but no one was injured, right?

  • It seems to me that conditions inside Henrys must have been quite unsafe, considering the fact that the fire department is located ACROSS THE STREET and could not save it.

    • Readers of recent news will point out that just because an emergency happens across the street from a DCFD/FEMS/WhateverSquad station doesn’t mean they’ll give a damn or respond quickly. Saw a kid break his leg at Marie Reed a few weeks ago (only 4 blocks away) and it took >20 minutes for them to respond.

      • Bazinga!

      • You’re an idiot. I bust my ass every day I go to work. I respond to about 20 calls a day, risked my life several times and even been out in the hospital. I’m sorry that’s not enough for you.

        Let me educate you since you like to voice your opinion over things you don’t understand.

        First, can it take awhile for an ambulance to get there? Yes. Does that mean we don’t care about our jobs? Of course not. The city is BUSY. I waited on the fire truck yesterday for an ambulance to respond from Sibley Hospital to east of the river. They did the best they could to get there quickly. The fix would be to add more ambulances and hire more people. That lies on the shoulders of your fire chief and mayor. Those of us out there risking our lives for you have no say in that. We don’t get breaks to eat or rest at all. It’s continuous for 24 hours at some places. So don’t act like we are sitting around doing nothing.

        Second, despite problems by our management as far as EMS goes, the DCFD is still known as one of the most aggressive fire departments in the nation. Go to Fairfax County. That whole place would be gone. DCFD actually runs into many burning buildings when other departments would not allow it. The fire house was up the street but that doesn’t mean they didn’t respond quickly. You see, someone has to call 911. Then the dispatchers have to dispatch the call. Who knows how long it was burning before that happened. That is a very good fire house that I know gave it all they could.

        Not everyone can work out perfectly in this world. Just ask the families of the 100 DC firemen who gave their lives protecting this city.

        • “Not everyone can work out perfectly in this world. Just ask the families of the 100 DC firemen who gave their lives protecting this city.”
          I imagine the family of Cecil Mills would have an opinion on this as well.

          • Please tell me what you do for a living. The tell me that there’s never been a bad person or a mistake made in your job field. If you do, you’re lying.

            They messed up and the officer is a moron in the first place. For you to blame all of us who risk our lives daily is extremely ignorant. We are all bad people though right? I especially hate those 343 firemen who died on 9/11. A bunch of stupid civil servants we are. Grow up.

  • I was always meaning to check out their sweet potato pies, but never did.
    I hope they’ll reopen (without the accumulated grease) and I’ll still get a chance to do so.

  • This had to be a grease fire.

    • The place had ventilation issues for years. The Henry’s workers would frequently come into my backyard because the A/C system would break down and they can access their building’s roof from my backyard via ladder to work on the system. The building was sorely in need of a new HVAC system.

  • I loved Henry’s country style steak w/ gravy and onions!!! This was a great option to all of the yuppie small-plate restaurants on 14th.

  • Is this the same owner as the Henry’s Soul cafe at 3rd and K?

  • Oh how sad, I love Henry’s, the pies, the chicken, the people. I hope no one was hurt and they can reopen soon.

    And yeah, Justin, why don’t you stay over on 14th Street. You never have a nice thing to say about anything that isn’t rich whiteyville.

    • That’s what happens when people have more money than common sense.

    • justinbc

      Your perspective on the things I like is completely delusional, to say the least. I grew up eating “poor Southern food”, in the South, not what they’ve replicated here in DC and pawned off on people because there’s so little of it there’s not much basis for comparison. There are some who do a respectable version, Oohhs and Aahhs for example, but Henry’s was not one of them. How about you just leave your ignorance of my preferences out of your reminiscing over this business’ departure?

      • Did you even eat at Oohs and Aahs before they jacked up their prices to gentrification levels? Because that food is crap compared to Henry’s.

        • justinbc

          You get the most massive box of food I’ve ever received in DC, for less than $20 (unless you get the ribs). It’s not quite as cheap as say Horace and Dickies, where $10 gets you half a dozen fish fillets plus bread, but it’s hardly comparable to “gentrification levels”. Hitching Post is a much better example of taking something that used to be great soul food in massive quantities and stripping almost all the desirable qualities out of it.

          • Well, $20 for a big box of mediocre food definitely beats $45 for three small plates of mediocre food, I’ll give you that.

      • Your entuire commenting history is delusional. Please, go back down south. Because this place is an older place that did not “replicate” southern food, it has a long history you newly arrived young buck know nothing about.

        Don’t like the food at Henry’s? You’re one of the first I have ever heard of who doesn’t. Of course you like Ooh’s & Aahs… it’s young white gentrifier priced food. Bet you never heard of it til white Guy pipped it on his show. I do not believe you ever ate at Henry’s. It would be beneath you.

        How about you don’t comment on everything like you know wtf happened. Do you know what caused the fire? Do you know that this place was not up to cleanliness standards? Do you know that 30 years of frying food in one location will leave residual smells? Have you learned they have had HVAC issues that they were constantly maintaining? Nah, just more Justin postering. Wanna tell more parents how to seat their children at restaurants?

        • justinbc

          Whether or not you believe I’ve eaten at Henry’s is completely irrelevant. But, just to entertain you, here’s my review from the first time I visited:
          I went back on two separate occasions, because I used to live in Logan Circle and it was the closest place that sold fried chicken not named Popeye’s. I’ve never watched Guy’s TV show, I despise him more than Spike even.
          If you want to see more people who don’t enjoy the food there, here you go, sorted by lowest scores to highest, many with photographic evidence of just how bad the food was:

          • Yelp… a place that anyone can post to, without ever having walked in to a restaurant. How utterly convincing. Nah, still think you’re lying.

            Ohhh and the whole rest of my comment? Do you KNOW if ANYTHING you have said is true? Nope. You don’t know… yet you comment as if you do.

            Moving down south anytime soon?

          • justinbc

            PoPville, a place where anyone with or without a username can assume they know shit about you. As I said, whether or not you believe me is irrelevant, I’ve got years of credibility there to back it up, and you’ve got zero. For all I know it’s you who’ve never eaten there. And I once claimed I knew what caused the fire. I said (along with multiple other posters in this thread) that the inside of the place points to several obvious things that are undeniable fire accelerants.

          • Seems like you didnt get along with Yelp/users either:

            I suppose it’s true that all good things must come to an end, and I certainly had a good run here on Yelp. My efforts to defend the site as a legitimate resource for finding quality information have finally been exhausted though. I’ve slowly become more jaded year after year here, especially as the stories from small business owners continue to flood in, and I continue to hear more and more of them myself from my friends in the service industry in DC.

            The final straw though was receiving an email from Yelp HQ that they reviewed my account for 2012 and found me to be “un-Elite like”, citing that I wasn’t “welcoming” to new users, and that I didn’t “watch out” for the community (sorry, isn’t this your Community Manager’s job? maybe if they ever used the forums for anything but trolling for their own write-ups WE wouldn’t have to). Even if you ignore the statistical facts to what I contributed to this site in 2012 (200+ reviews, 40+ First to Reviews, 5 selected as Review of the Day, and over 2,000 photos), there were countless times where I responded to requests for help in the forums, on almost a daily basis. If anyone genuinely provided more information to the clueless masses in DC in 2012 then I don’t know who it was. I don’t say that to toot my horn, but I literally did what should be included in the Community Manager’s job for them.

            The forums have been a barren wasteland for Yelp development since their inception, and are continually pushed further into irrelevance with every new design implementation. Yet, they use that as a reason to continually deny people Elite status (not just myself). Ask yourself, when was the last time your CM ever posted in a thread that wasn’t self-serving (meaning directly related to some Weekly Yelp article they were planning)? If it’s more than once then you can say you’ve surpassed the level of interaction we get here in DC. That’s not meant to be an absolute knock on the CM’s and the work they do, because I know there are some great ones out there like Kevin L., Kathleen M., Candice G., etc, but it’s more to point out how insignificant of an aspect that area is to Yelp management, and why it’s such a joke that they use that as a way to punish people who actively participate in their site.

            I should also point out that I have not been placed in Yelp Jail once, ever, and only had a handful of my posts ever removed (including maybe 2 in all of 2012, out of some several thousand). Even when some psycho girl started obsessively posting in every thread I made, bringing up aspects of my own personal life, I refrained from interacting with her until she absolutely went too far. And even then, none of my posts to her were ever flagged and removed by the community. So…what exactly was it that I did that was so offensive? I guess I’ll never know, because I contacted our Community Manager directly (as she suggested I do if I ever had a question), and received zero response. In fact it’s almost insulting given the amount of time and effort I’ve dedicated to this site over the last 5+ years to receive some generic email from Yelp HQ because she was too cowardly to contact me herself.

            I do want to thank everyone who spoke to me over the last few days with their kind words and myriad of compliments about what my reviews meant to them, or how it helped them in some way. From the beginning I have always written for myself, as a therapeutic way to release some creative energy and pass the day, so the bonus that it in some way helped a multitude of people was really fantastic. It’s because of that and at the requests of several individuals that I won’t be completely deleting my account, but I also will no longer be contributing to it. As much as I want to strip it down completely and no longer allow them to pull advertising revenue off of my hard work, I know that in the end it really won’t matter because this site has become so large that individual members no longer matter (as witnessed by the completely impersonal emails). Many people suggested I go out in a blaze of glory, or organize a mass exodus with all of my followers, but that’s just not my style. I’ve always tried to maintain a sense of dignity in my reviews, and my plight is not yours (although I do see most of these issues as endemic to Yelp as a whole). The quality of what is deemed Elite reviews these days, as well as the events associated with it, has drastically declined over the last 2-3 years in DC, and frankly it’s a relief to not have to chase that carrot on a stick anymore.

            I began this by saying that all good things must come to an end, but that’s only partially true. Because of Yelp I’ve met dozens of good-natured folks who I now consider friends, many of which I’ve known for many years now. Those relationships will last long after Yelp’s relevance fades, and anyone who wants to follow anything I say in the future will easily be able to do so.

          • justinbc

            I don’t get along with their former management, that’s for sure.

          • justinbc

            You do realize that I wrote that, right? And that it’s free to the public to read? It’s not like you’re somehow burning me with my own words. The simple fact is that you have a difference of opinion on the place than I do, and you’re unable to accept that fact, and instead of just making a post about missing the business you decided to bring me into it for some reason. If you had kept your post personal to you, rather than a personal attack at someone else, you could have saved yourself this embarrassment. And I still don’t believe you’ve ever eaten at Henry’s until you provide a photo of you holding a receipt and sweet potato pie in hand (see how absurd these pointless internet accusations are?).

          • Identify, why do you care so much what someone you’ve never met thinks? You’re sounding really obsessed at this point.

  • This all happened shortly before six am. I was walking my dog at the time. I’ve never seen so many fire trucks in one place, 7 engines at least, plus auxiliary trucks. I guess the trucks down the street (not across the street) were not enough. Strangely enough though, it didn’t look that bad from the front and the side.

    And at that early in the morning, I don’t know if they were even open yet.

    • Hi, neighbor. Yeah, they weren’t open yet. As far as I know, they don’t open on weekdays until 10 or so; they’re always closed when I walk my kids to school anyway. So depending on how early they start their prep, no one may have been in there at all. If so, that might explain why the damage was so extensive — maybe there was no one to call it in until it was too late.

  • Noooo!!! So much better than Oohs and Aahs (not to mention so much more reasonably priced). I miss it already. Pulled pork sandwich, an arnold palmer, and a slice of sweet potato pie?! COME BACK TO ME

  • Sad. When I first moved onto U street these types of carryouts could be found everywhere, serving up home cooking for cheap. Henry’s was the last remaining one.

  • Hopefully they will rebuild. Henry’s is a great place to get some good should food. Yeah, when I decide to go there my diet is out the window, but thats okay with me. Everyone deserves a “treat” every once in a while and I like to treat myself with good ole southern food. Henry’s is awesome and I hope to see them open again real soon.

  • 1. They never opened early enough (strange for a place like this, i.e. one set up to do massive breakfast crowds).
    2. They never had scrapple when I came by (again, when I came by).
    3. They never served cream chip beef. FAIL!
    4. justinbc FAIL!

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