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Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams positions itself for the future under watchful eye of its namesakes

Furniture and LGBT rights go hand in hand for North Carolina-based entrepreneurs and advocates

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Mitchell Gold, gay news, Washington Blade
Mitchell Gold, gay news, Washington Blade
Bob Williams and Mitchell Gold today. They say their line of aspirational luxury furniture has resonated with consumers and their numbers back it up. (Photo courtesy Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams)

It’s a Monday morning and Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams, the visionaries behind the Taylorsville, N.C.-based, eponymous company that bills itself as “classic modern home furnishings,” are looking at another long work week ahead but excited about the weekend’s events.

It happens to be the day after Pete Buttigieg announced his presidential campaign and Gold especially is excited. 

“I think he’s really terrific,” Gold, 68, says. As a long-time outspoken proponent for LGBT rights and author of the book “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America,” Gold’s enthusiasm is not surprising.

“I think when he first came on the scene I was kind of dismissive,” Gold says. “Oh, this is some gay guy from the Midwest, he’s mayor of a small town, you know, who does he think he is?  But the more I saw him, especially on a CNN town hall, for me what he’s doing is challenging anti-LGBT evangelicals, the Mike Pences of the world. … In my wildest dreams as a kid, I would never have thought yesterday would happen so I was really touched by it.”

The occasion is the 30th anniversary of Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams and a lot has changed since the Blade profiled the men (Williams is 57) and company, long-time business partners and at one time romantic partners as well, on its 25th anniversary five years ago. It’s been a season of significant growth.

Five years ago, they had about 700 employees. It’s near 1,000 now. The majority are full time. Then they had 17 stores. There are now 33. The most recent opened last year in Fort Worth, Texas. Their headquarters five years ago was about 600,000 square feet It’s now close to 1 million. Sales have doubled in that time as well to about $230 million for all their holdings, which include a contract business that sells to hotels and an office supply arm. For more information, visit mgbwhome.com.

They were chatty — Gold especially — during a 45-minute phone interview. Their comments have been edited for space.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What’s going on these days with Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams? It sounds like a lot has happened since we last spoke.

MITCHELL GOLD: We are really working to position our company for the future to get the team really in order to take the company into the next decade and we’re super optimistic because the style sense that we have, the modern sensibility, whether it goes to pure American modern or more of a traditional modern, really seems to resonate with a lot of customers.

BLADE: How have trends changed from five years ago?

GOLD: We’ve had a lot of new competition in the last five years and a lot of our older competition has moved toward making more modern furniture. I think consumers have really moved toward the style sense we’ve had for well over 20 years.

BOB WILLIAMS: The other thing we’ve seen is color. Five years ago it was a lot more neutrals and a lot of it had to do with the 2008 recession. After about 2016, people were tired of that and wanted some freshness. That’s the other big thing we’ve noticed.

BLADE: Have you seen trends like that before over the years?

WILLIAMS: Yes, we saw it after 9-11. People were much more hesitant and conservative and not feeling as bold and colorful. It took a few years after that before we started seeing color back on the floor.

BLADE: What does that say about our national psyche?

WILLIAMS? I think when things get tough and people don’t feel secure, they get a little bit more reserved in their thinking and buying habits.

GOLD: Now things are a little chaotic and unsettling but I think what we’re seeing is a lot of people want to be happy and as Bob often says, the colors that we do are happy colors.

BLADE: What other national trends affect what you guys do? Over 30 years, for instance, the middle class in this country isn’t what it was yet your sales are up. Has the one percent made up the difference?

WILLIAMS: I wouldn’t say it’s the one percent making up the difference. I would say it really depends on the mood of what’s going on. People need to buy furniture no matter what’s going on with the economy. They move into a new house, something’s changed … so it’s kind of a tricky situation.

GOLD: People in our community categorize us as aspirational luxury … and you’d be amazed how many people just starting out in their career tell me, “Oh, I bought a sofa from you, I waited ’til the floor sample was on clearance so I could get a price I could afford,” or they bought something at more of an opening price point, all the way to people who are in charge of stuff like global retail for Nike. There are a lot more people at our more entry level price point who aspire to have our stuff and we try to make it available to them at different times of the year.

BLADE: You had a spate of events at your various stores for your 25th anniversary. Are you doing that again for 30?

GOLD: We have a few. We just had one in New York with Elle Decor magazine that benefited the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Lady Bunny DJ’ed … she’s fantastic. …We’re doing a big event in September in our Beverly Hills store with Architectural Digest and in our Texas stores next week. So yes, we have things going on all over the country for the year.

BLADE: What other causes are you passionate about besides LGBT ones?

GOLD: We work with the Sustainable Furnishings Council, an environmental group for the home furnishings industry. And Exodus Works, headed by Rev. Reggie Longcrier that helps homeless people get into their first apartments. 

BLADE: How do you decide where you’ll open new stores?

GOLD: There are a lot of factors — what the household incomes are, what the education levels are, what the style sense is. We also try to cluster our stores in big markets because they do more business than you would get in a remote market and you get to take advantage of the efficiencies of having two-three stories in one market like in D.C., we have a store just down the street from you and also one in Tysons Galleria that really gives us the opportunity to cover a big part of the market. Another big factor is just what’s available in commercial real estate. It’s much different than residential. We really want to be in great locations, great buildings and have it be the right size for us so there are always four or five balls we have up in the air looking for the right place.

BLADE: Will you open any more in 2019?

GOLD: No. We’re working more on our website this year, then we will start back expanding in 2020.

BLADE: Does your expanded headquarters space make up for more overall volume or are there other things you’re doing there?

GOLD: It’s mainly a factor of volume but we have a large distribution center now. We used to ship certain categories out of different locations but we’ve brought it all together to one distribution center and we took the other space and used it to expand our manufacturing abilities.

BLADE: What are the downsides of so much growth? Are there headaches involved that the average person wouldn’t think of?

GOLD: You have to do everything very carefully. One of the difficulties is hiring the right people, hiring them quickly …

WILLIAMS: Office space …

GOLD: … moving people around, we’re going through that again. Every time you hire somebody, you have to have a space for them. Even though we try to have extra office space available, it never seems to be enough.

BLADE: Five years ago, you estimated your employees were about 15 percent LGBT and clientele about 15-20 percent LGBT. Would you say those numbers have changed?

GOLD: Those are close enough I would say.

BLADE: Mitchell, almost exactly a year ago you were on the cover of The Washington Post (Sunday) Magazine in a piece called “The Last Frontier for Gay Rights,” and spoke of your work with the P.R.I.D.E. Club at a high school in your community. How was it received?

GOLD: The reaction was generally very good. … I got virtually no negative comments that I know of, to my face. The only disappointing thing was I wish the writer had focused a bit more on people who have changed their minds (on LGBT rights). She seemed a bit more focused on people who have dug in their heels, who still believe, quote-unquote, that homosexuality is a sin. There are people, whether they’re evangelicals, Mormons or Catholics, who have started to change like Rev. Stan Mitchell in Tennessee or David Gushee in Atlanta … who stand up and say, “I don’t believe it is a sin.” 

BLADE: Do you feel the rate at which that is happening is encouraging or will we still be debating this in 20 years?

GOLD: Mayor Pete has the opportunity to create a seismic shift and he has that opportunity because he’s willing to talk about it in a way that people understand, in a way that our LGBT advocacy groups don’t talk about it. It’s not enough to win an election or win a court case, we have to continue educating people and getting them to understand the harm they’re doing to people … to understand why they have to change their voting habits.

BLADE: Bob, do you follow these issues as closely as Mitchell?

WILLIAMS: Not quite as closely as Mitchell but my husband is on the board for OUTright Youth so I hear a lot of things that are going on because of him and also being out in the community, being a big part of that.

BLADE: You listed the Sunbrella Collection in 2018 as one of your recent milestones. What’s that?

WILLIAMS: That’s a company that has been around for a long time and is really known for their outdoor fabric and for the longest time they’ve been trying to get in on the indoor market but their fabrics weren’t quite soft enough. But they’ve finally found a way to re-engineer their yarn to have a softer feel and we’re very excited to be part of their new indoor collection. It’s easy to take care of. You don’t have to worry about it staining. 

BLADE: Are buying trends any different in Washington than your other markets?

GOLD: The stuff in D.C. is very gay. No, I’m kidding (laughs). The only thing I’d say is maybe a larger amount of smaller pieces that might be sold because it’s a city whereas in Tysons where the homes are bigger, not as much, but style wise it’s very similar.

BLADE: How about in Los Angeles? 

GOLD: There’s sort of a California casual yet dressier look. Maybe a little cleaner looking but still very modern. In D.C., maybe a little more traditional. We have three fantastic stores in L.A.

BLADE: Would you like to retire someday?

GOLD: At some point I would like to work a little less. We have a search on now for a CEO to come in and transition and eventually take a lot of my responsibility. 

WILLIAMS: One of the things we’ve been focusing on the last year is getting everything a little bit more organized for that day when neither of us are here. 

GOLD: We’re also searching for a chief marketing officer. That could be a pretty big opportunity for somebody.

BLADE: Any other big changes since we last spoke in your personal lives?

WILLIAMS: I grew a beard, that’s about it.

GOLD: I lost about 45 pounds and feel great. 

BLADE: How are your husbands and what do they do?

GOLD: Tim (Gold) is fostering at-risk puppies and cogs with the local Catawba Valley Human Society. He picks the appropriate dogs and trains them to be service dogs for kids or young adults with autism or other people in need. And Bob’s husband Stephen (Heavner) is a painter and is very good.

WILLIAMS: He also does volunteer work and has sold some paintings. Not anything that expensive.

GOLD: But he’s very good and he’s sold things for prices above what I would have anticipated. 

BLADE: How is Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams different from Pottery Barn or Room & Board?

GOLD: We have a distinctly modern style sense, we have our own factor and we make higher quality and equality is important to us. We are a company that supports equality for everybody, not just in the things we say but in the organizations and politicians we support. In those other stores, when people go in and buy, they’re buying from manufacturers that we know down South do not support politicians who honor equality. In fact, they have manufacturers that supported (anti-LGBT legislation) HB2 (the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act) and politicians that had those in place.

BLADE: How do you relax?

GOLD: I like “Law & Order” and “Seinfeld.”

WILLIAMS: He watches the first eight minutes then falls asleep in the middle and wakes up at the very end and says, “Let’s watch another.” Then he falls asleep again. He never knows what’s in the middle of any of those episodes. 

GOLD: I love to read. On the weekends, Tim and I take the dogs on long walks.

WILLIAMS: We like taking short trips and discovering new things in North Carolina. We take advantage of that as often as we can.

Bob Williams and Mitchell Gold in 1987. (Photo courtesy Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams) 
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Melissa Etheridge shares Q&A in advance of April 26 Tysons tour stop

Rock pioneer finds inspiration in the past — from revisiting old demos to reconnecting with celeb pals like Ellen

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Melissa Etheridge brings her ‘One Way Out Tour’ to the D.C. region next week with a show at the new Capital One Hall in Tysons. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

Melissa Etheridge
‘One Way Out Tour’
Tuesday, April 26
Capital One Hall
7750 Capital One Tower Rd.
Tysons, VA
7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $55
ticketmaster.com
capitalonehall.com
melissaetheridge.com

We caught up with rock legend Melissa Etheridge on April 8 by phone from Snoqualmie, Wash. — it’s about 26 miles east of Seattle —where she was playing the Snoqualmie Casino on her “One Way Out Tour,” which plays our region on Tuesday, April 26. 

It’s named after her latest album, released last fall, which found Etheridge, who’s been out since ’93, revisiting demos from early in her career.

Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: “One Way Out” sounds like such a cool project. Was it all re-recorded stuff of old songs or were some of those vintage takes on the record as well?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: The last two songs, the live songs, were from where? From 2002? OK, but the other songs were newly recorded. 

BLADE: And how many of them did you remember?

ETHERIDGE: You know, when I found them again, they all came back very clearly. And I was like, “Oh, this is — why did I throw that away? That’s weird.” And I really enjoyed, you know, hearing them, they were just old demos. I’d never done full-blown recordings. So I thought, “This is great, I want to do these songs.”

BLADE: We have a relatively new venue you’re going to be playing, Capital One Hall. I’ve only been there once. You excited?

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it’s always fun. I love the D.C.-area crowd. It’s just really, really nice.

BLADE: And how do you decide where you’ll be? Or do you have any say in it? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, it’s not necessarily me. I do have a say in it, in what I want the whole tour to look like. But it is really up to William Morris, my agent, to find the right venue that understands what we need and the kind of atmosphere we’re looking for that and the amount of people and, you know, that sort of thing.

BLADE: Tell me about Etheridge TV. I just wonder, when we were in that acute phase of the pandemic, wasn’t it even remotely tempting to you to just take a break?

ETHERIDGE: No, because since I was 12 years old, I sang all the time for people, like five days a week and it’s just been what I do. And so when it was like, I was looking at a massive, cavernous amount of time that I was going to be home, I still needed a way to pay the bills, so we put our heads together — I’ve got one of the greatest television minds with me, you know, my wife (TV producer Linda Wallem), so I had the space and I had the equipment, and I was like, “Let’s do it.” And it was really fun to learn new things. It was fun to learn about computers and sound and streaming and lights and cameras and all these things that I didn’t know. … I feel a little smarter.

BLADE: When did you start back on the road?

ETHERIDGE: We went out last fall. We went out September, October, right around there. And you know, it was a little different, Now things are things are loosening up … but some places still require masks. But people are starting to get back out and it feels good. It’s not the overwhelming thing that it was a few months ago.

BLADE: And what was it like being on ‘Ellen’ again for her final season?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, I love her. She’s such an old friend. You know, I say that about myself, too. (chuckles) But, you know, she’s just a relationship in my life that I have treasured. We’ve watched each other grow and the changes we’ve made and the successes and what we’ve gone through and I love that she had me on and just it was just a really — she’s a dear friend. And she showed an old photo there, and we both said, “Oh, that was before we were so busy.”

BLADE: Do you talk to her often?

ETHERIDGE: I would say we see each other socially once or twice a year. It just seemed like once we started having children, all my friends from my 20s and 30s when we were not as busy — it just gets harder to stay in touch and life got crazy. 

BLADE: So when you were hanging out back in the day with Ellen and Rosie and everybody, how was it that Brad Pitt was in that group too? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, my girlfriend (Julie Cypher) had been married to Lou Diamond Phillips and we were all very good friends with Dermot Mulroney and Catherine Keener and Catherine Keener did a movie with Brad, like a movie nobody saw, like Johnny Dangerously or something (1991’s “Johnny Suede”), some really weird movie. So I met Brad before he was terribly famous. He was a part of that group. There was a whole group of all of us that just hung out, and we were all totally different. We were just like young, hungry Hollywood and we’d talk about, “Oh, I had this audition,” or “I went and did this,” and we were just all trying to make it in that town. So we’d get together and have fun. 

BLADE: I was so terribly sorry to hear about Beckett (Etheridge’s son, who died in 2020 at age 21 after struggling with opioid addiction). How are you and the rest of the family, especially (Beckett’s twin) Bailey, dealing with it now?

ETHERIDGE: There are many, many families like us that deal with a loss like that. It just blows a family sideways. But we have a deep love and connection, all of us. We all knew he had a problem and it’s a problem that starts way before he actually passes, so it was not a surprise. So now we’re just living with the missing aspect. You try not to think about what could have been and you try to think about him in a happier place and that he’s out of pain, so that helps us.

BLADE: Had he and Bailey been as close in recent years?

ETHERIDGE: They were very close, but in the last couple of years as he made worse and worse choices, we couldn’t support that, so they were less close, but of course in her heart, it was her brother, he was very dear to her. 

BLADE: Did you watch the Grammys?  Was there anybody you were particularly rooting for?

ETHERIDGE: I watched bits and pieces of it. I had a show that night, so I didn’t get to see the main thing, but I have seen pieces and I just love the crazy diversity and you know, the TikTok people winning stuff, it’s like, “Wow, this is so not the Grammys I remember from the ’80s,” but that was what, 30 years ago? So it’s all good.

BLADE: You were such a perennial favorite back in the day in the best rock female category. Were you pissed when they eliminated it? 

ETHERIDGE: It’s sad because I felt like the criteria they were using to judge what is female rock, they just really dropped the ball. I still think there are some amazing musicians that could be considered, you know, rock, but it feels like we’re having a hard time even defining what rock and roll is now anyway. There’s a whole bunch of strong women out there playing, rocking, you know, playing guitar, being excellent musicians and songwriters. If you can’t call it best rock female, OK, call it something else. 

BLADE: I remember so vividly when you were on the Grammys in 2005, in the midst of chemo, when you sang “Piece of My Heart.” I remember you saying you were wondering how people would react to seeing you bald. Having been through that, any thoughts on the Will/Jada Oscars situation since her baldness, too, was due to a medical condition? 

ETHERIDGE: You know, it’s funny, I did feel a little remembrance of (thinking), “I just hope people don’t make fun of me.” That was kind of the first thing because to go out there bald, that was so different for me as an artist whose hair had kind of defined her. I was thinking, “How am I gonna rock without my hair?” I thought people might make fun of me, but I got over that. I just thought, “Well, if somebody makes fun of me, that just makes them look bad.” So I just walked through it. And you know, it’s hard to draw the line between what’s funny and what’s painful and how to look at something. I feel for all parties involved. 

BLADE: When you go on these cruises, do fans give you some space or do they swarm around the minute you walk out? Is it even enjoyable for you? 

ETHERIDGE: Yeah, it is. You know, we did our last one, now we’re doing Etheridge Island, we now have a destination in Mexico, outside of Cancun, it’s just this island that we’re going to that is really fantastic. But I do I make myself available, I don’t run away. When I have to be somewhere, I have a great company we work with called Sixthman that knows how to get me from point A to point B without being bogged down. But I do my make myself available. Everyone gets a picture with me. It’s my work, but I love it. I try to make myself available but also have some time just for myself too.

Melissa Etheridge says slowing down wasn’t an option for her when the pandemic hit. She’s glad to be back on the road now, she says. (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)

BLADE: You Tweeted a few nights ago about having a tight curfew of just 90 minutes at a casino but then it worked out and you got to do a full set. Why are the curfews so tight at casinos?  

ETHERIDGE: Why do you think? They want people at the tables. Like for tonight, we we settled on 100 minutes. They’re giving me 10 extra minutes. I don’t like it, but in some areas, the only really good venue is a casino, so if you want to reach your folks there, you kind of have to meet them half way. 

BLADE: Yeah, but it seems like in concert halls, the curfews can sometimes be really tight too. Even Madonna got her lights shut off a couple years ago. Of course, she’s notoriously late, but why are they so strict with these things nowadays? 

ETHERIDGE: There are all different situations — concert halls often have union crews that will absolutely shut you down if you go one second over. There are also sound curfews, noise curfews, mostly with outdoor venues, but sometimes indoor as well. They have an agreement with the neighborhood. So you have people in the neighborhood standing by with their phones ready to pounce the minute it goes over one minute, they’re gonna call the police. As a performer, you just realize, “OK, it’s not just about me.” When I don’t have a curfew, I usually land at about two hours and some change. That seems comfortable to everyone. Any longer and I think I’m wearing my audience out. When I’m at a place with a shorter show, I just do my best. 

BLADE: I know you’re a big Chiefs fan. Did you watch that game back in January all the way to the end? 

ETHERIDGE: Well, at the end of it, I was on the floor. My wife was like, “Honey, honey, there’s still 13 seconds,” and I was moaning and sort of getting my feet on the floor and, you know, laying down and throwing a fit. And she’s like, “No, there’s still 13 seconds.” I dragged myself back to the television. And I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Wait a minute. Did we just win?” You know, just really crazy, really crazy stuff. … When you’re a fan like that, it’s a ride you can’t fully explain.

BLADE: Are you in a cordial or good place with your exes? Does it get easier when the kids are starting to grow up?

ETHERIDGE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you realize that it’s best for the kids if you can really get along and that any sort of conflict that can’t get resolved, that gets emotional, does no good for anyone. And absolutely, I have, I’ve gotten better at that as the years have gone by.

BLADE: Do you have the slightest inkling yet what the next studio album might be like?

ETHERIDGE: Well, I’ve got some interesting projects that I’m not ready to talk about just yet. But they have to do with my life story. There’s a lot of digging up of my past and really telling the story. So I imagine the next series of music you’ll get from me is going to be very focused on my journey. 

Melissa Etheridge, gay news, Washington Blade
Melissa Etheridge (Photo by Elizabeth Miranda; courtesy Primary Wave)
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New Cranes sommelier brings spirit to wine and sake program

Stewart-Woodruff curates eclectic list for Michelin-starred restaurant

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‘I bring my whole self to work,’ says Eric Stewart-Woodruff. (Photo by Rey Lopez)

Outfitted in a blue damask dinner jacket with satin lapels and an energetic smile, Eric Stewart-Woodruff carves an impressive figure when chatting about his favorite vintages. Stewart-Woodruff, who’s gay, is the new sommelier at Michelin-starred Cranes in Penn Quarter.

Stewart-Woodruff curates an eclectic wine – and sake – program focusing on pairings with celebrated Chef Pepe Moncayo’s innovative, global flavors. Cranes, which explores intersections of Spanish and Japanese cuisine, opened just before the pandemic, and received a coveted Michelin star in 2021.

Stewart-Woodruff did not start off in the wine industry. In fact, he does not have any formal training in wine. Instead, after a career as a professional photographer, he pivoted to the restaurant industry, where he developed his love of wine. While working for a distributor, he connected with D.C.’s own District Winery. This opportunity allowed him to express his truest self, as a lead tour guide, wine ambassador and sommelier. He credits his identity and personality as his reason for thriving.

“I bring my whole self to work,” he says, “offering a level of humanity and approachability.” 

After the pandemic temporarily shuttered District Winery, Stewart-Woodruff found himself interviewing at Cranes, enamored with Moncayo’s “creative vision,” he says – and was sold. He began in late summer of 2021.

Through his work in hospitality, Stewart-Woodruff notes that the industry can be hetero-male dominated. He has been able to break through by not holding back on his identity.

“I tend to play with expectations of what a sommelier may look or act like,” he says. “I move away from what one may stereotypically look like, but still present like one.”

For him, that means talking about wine and wine education “as if it were gossip,” he says. “I like to view wine like we are at brunch. Wine has personality, it’s performative, and it has stereotypes.” He is seeking to break molds of specific likes and dislikes, exploring the depth that wine has to offer, in the context of the Spanish-Japanese Cranes menu. In fact, he says, Moncayo is supportive of his innovative, certification-less angle. “I become more relatable,” he says.

He also presents original events. He paired with local guest sommelier Andrew Stover (also a gay man) on Tuesday, March 29 for a springtime showcase of specialty rosé wines paired with Moncayo’s dishes. The duo poured tastes of specialty, small-batch wines from Brazil, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, and Maryland.

Leaning into the innovative spirit, the wine-by-glass list is not split by color. Instead, it is divided into evocative categories. For example, both a chardonnay and a pinot noir fall into the “Elegant, round, and mellow” category.

As a Spanish-Japanese restaurant, Cranes not only possesses an extensive wine cellar, but has consistently expanded its sake program. Sakes by the glass are split into the same exact categories. The very same “Elegant, round, and mellow” list includes Ginjo Nama Genshu and junmai daiginjo.

Stewart-Woodruff explains that wine and sake should be attended to similarly. “Sake is something you can think about like a beer in terms of production but treat like a wine,” he says. Sake is a fermented polished-rice beverage, dating back more than two millennia in Japan.

“Sake has aromatics, texture, body, and finish.” He takes pride in discussing customers’ palate preferences, and turning them onto a specific sake, for their qualities of earthiness, acidity, or others.

“Many people don’t experience sake outside of college or bars. Now, I can be a sommelier for sake, and for the marriage of Eastern and Western cuisine and beverage.” He expresses excitement at being innovative in his sake beverage pairings, occupying a niche space. When discussing both wine and sake, he aims to bring an artistic flair and tour-guide enthusiasm to the table.

Woodruff credits his identity and background for his success. He aims to bring a level of humanity and approachability to what has been a formal, stuffy area. He has high ambitions to portray sake as sophisticated as wine in the customer’s mind, “but it pairs well with Moncayo’s conceptually ambitious menu,” he says.

“Wine and sake are as eclectic as humanity. I want people to accept experiencing wine like the world has accepted me.”

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Legalization trend continues as Nat’l Cannabis Festival kicks off

D.C.’s 420 Week runs April 16-24

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National Cannabis Festival (Photo by Doug Van Sant; courtesy NCF)

The sixth annual National Cannabis Festival kicks off in D.C. on April 16 as the nation continues to see advances in legalizing cannabis, particularly for medical uses. 

Just this week, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed HB 933 and SB 671, to provide numerous operational improvements to the state’s medical cannabis program, including eliminating the requirement that patients register with the Board of Pharmacy after receiving their written certification from a registered practitioner. 

“These legislative improvements will bring great relief to the thousands of Virginians waiting to access the medical cannabis program,” said JM Pedini, NORML’s Development Director and the Executive Director of Virginia NORML. “We hear from dozens of Virginians each week who are struggling with the registration process and frustrated by the 60-day wait to receive their approval from the Board of Pharmacy,” Pedini added.

There are more than 47,000 program registrants, with an estimated 8,000 applicants still awaiting approval. 

The new laws will take effect July 1. Until that time, patients will still be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy in order to shop at one of the state’s ten operational dispensaries. After July 1, patients who would like to receive a physical card will still have the option to request one by registering with the Board of Pharmacy.

The changes in Virginia law reflect growing support nationwide for reforming marijuana laws. Most Americans favor the enactment of a broad array of legal reforms specific to marijuana policy, according to new nationwide polling data provided by YouGov.com.

Specifically, six-in-10 Americans say that “marijuana should be made legal in the United States.” Majorities of Democrats (72 percent) and independents (60 percent) back legalization, while most Republicans (46 percent) do not.

Last week, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 220 to 204 in favor of The MORE Act, which removes marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act thereby allowing states to legalize cannabis markets free from federal interference. Most Democrats (217) voted for the bill while all but three Republicans voted against it.

A majority of Americans also support amending federal law so that banks and other financial institutions can explicitly partner with state-licensed marijuana businesses. Support for the policy change is strongest among Democrats (66 percent) and weakest among Republicans (38 percent).

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are discouraged from partnering with state-licensed cannabis businesses. According to the most recent financial information provided by the US Treasury Department, only about ten percent of all banks and only about four percent of all credit unions provide services to licensed cannabis-related businesses.

House members have voted on six separate occasions to pass federal legislation (The SAFE Banking Act) to reform this policy, but Senators have never taken any action to advance it in the Upper Chamber. Most recently, House members voted in February to include SAFE Banking provisions in HR 4521: the America COMPETES Act. Senators failed to include similar language in their version of the bill. (Courtesy NORML)

420 Week arrives in D.C.

D.C. is gearing up for a blazing 420 Week, featuring several days of exciting panels, art and community-building events and parties culminating in the National Cannabis Festival on April 23, featuring Wiz Khalifa, Lettuce, Ghostface Killah, Backyard Band, DuPont Brass, Shamans of Sound, Cramer, and more. 

This year, the sixth annual National Cannabis Festival, which celebrates progress on cannabis legalization, is expanding to a full weekend of epic cannabis-related events, including the National Cannabis Policy Summit April 22 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and the National Cannabis Championship, presented by Gentleman Toker and slated for April 24 at Echostage with Slick Rick. The weekend is the capstone of 420 Week, hosted by the National Cannabis Festival organizers in partnership with the Eaton Hotel and DC Brau. The week kicks off on Saturday, April 16, with movie screenings, evening parties, a beer launch and more. Read on for the week’s highlights, courtesy of Festival organizers:
 

420 Week

Saturday, April 16 – Sunday, April 24 

Eaton Hotel + DC Brau

From the Hemp and Hops Panel and launch of NCF Legalize It! Lager at DC Brau (3178-B Bladensburg Rd. NE) on April 16 to the 4/20 Kickback Party featuring Khalifa Kush and panel with artists discussing cannabis’s role in their practice at the Eaton Hotel (1201 K St, NW), 420 Week promises something for everyone with an interest in cannabis culture. Take a tour with Luckie Chucky tours, participate in a “Plantwave Soundbath” and more. Nearly all events are free; RSVP required. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com for details. 
 

National Cannabis Policy Summit

Friday, April 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Join a who’s who of activists, industry pioneers, government leaders, journalists and more for an electric and illuminating day looking at the era’s most pressing cannabis policy challenges and opportunities. U.S. Senate candidate and Civil Rights activist Gary Chambers; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; Portland Cannabis Program Manager Dasheeda Dawson; Aamra Ahmad, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and many others will be on hand to discuss environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation, banking legislation, decriminalization and more. Afterward, stay for a reception sponsored by Weedmaps. All events are free; registration is strongly recommended. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/ncf-policy-summit for details. 
      

National Cannabis Festival

Saturday, April 23, 12 p.m. 

RFK Festival Grounds

2400 East Capitol St., NE, Lot 8

 The highlight of 420 Week events is the East Coast’s largest ticketed cannabis gathering, which returns to Washington’s RFK Campus with performances from Wiz Khalifa Lettuce, Ghostface Killah and many others. Also on tap: a wide range of exhibitors, five pavilions on topics from wellness to agriculture to education, and a brand-new culinary pavilion featuring top chefs from Maydan, Maketto, Moon Rabbit, as well as the Munchies Zone, with 75 of the region’s most popular food trucks including Peruvian Brothers, Jerk at Nite, Reba’s Funnel Cakes and more. (Note: No THC infused foods are permitted to be sold or sampled at NCF; festival-goers must be 21 and up.) Tickets range from $75-$375 for one or two-day admission to the festival and National Cannabis Championship. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets
 

National Cannabis Championship Presented by Gentleman Toker

Sunday, April 24, 12 p.m.

2135 Queens Chapel Rd., NE

Slick Rick and DJ Footwerk are giving festival-goers a sendoff to remember on the final day of 420 Week and the festival weekend, at the National Cannabis Championship at Echostage, new this year. Presented by Gentleman Toker, this awards show and bash celebrates the incredible cannabis cultivation taking place in the Washington area and across the Mid-Atlantic. Expect exhibitors, comedy, munchies, drinks and a chance to chill with some of the biggest names and brands in cannabis cultivation. Tickets are $55. Visit nationalcannabisfestival.com/tickets.

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