Two D.C. natives take on one of the city’s beloved food staples.
Glizzys Vegan Food Company’s All The Way To Heaven is a plant-based sausage garnished with an aurora borealis of sautéed red peppers, green peppers, onions and perfect swirls of mustard. But its true magic extends beyond the eye to one’s palate where a confection of sweet and salty tastes melt onto the tongue — an experience that mirrors the levitation one feels after a pleasant gourmet experience.
This glizzy — D.C. slang for hot dog — also happens to be what Glizzys’ co-owner and D.C. native, Dontrell Britton, recommends from the menu, along with the Navy Yard Nachos and the Mt. Pleasant Mexican Street Corn.
“A lot of people can relate to a hot dog,” Britton says. “If I can make [the vegan option] a little tastier, it’s a win.”
Although Glizzys has its roots sunk in D.C., the idea to open was born in Los Angeles where Britton worked as a fitness trainer to the stars — his clients included Shy Glizzy and Pusha T. While there, he noticed the prevalence of vegan food options and wanted to bring what he saw back to his hometown.
“I brought it to [Shy Glizzy] and was like, ‘Young, your name is Shy Glizzy. D.C. is known for glizzies; we should open a restaurant and call it Glizzys,’” Britton says. “So all the rappers and anyone who stops by D.C. is like, ‘I gotta come to Glizzys because this is a landmark.’”
Shy Glizzy ended up pulling out of the business idea after permanently moving to Los Angeles, but Britton saved $100,000 and opened a vegan food truck in 2021 with his friend and fellow D.C. native Nathan Headspeth. The two hired Britton’s personal chef, Jimmy Butler (who goes by Chef JB), and created a menu of vegan and environmentally friendly hot dogs with names that paid homage to different neighborhoods in D.C., such as Shaw and Capitol Hill.
“What’s exciting about the menu and the opportunity is that I can showcase my skills in the kitchen with the different flavors we bring to the vegan scene,” Chef JB says. “The fact that I’m cooking the way I eat makes it that much better. It’s a chance to introduce cleaner eating to those who are not fortunate to do so.”
Britton also tapped into his personal network to back his business with a team of accountants, tax experts, real estate professionals and a contract lawyer. His lawyer was especially instrumental in obtaining the company trademark for Glizzys, a two-year experience that Britton said cost him $2,000 upfront.
“One of the trademark things we kept running into was Shy Glizzy, because both [brands] are associated with D.C.,” he says. “We were able to go through with it because he’s entertainment and we’re food, and those are two separate entities.”
While foraying into the food business world can be a precarious journey for many small business owners, Britton attributes his success thus far, and level headedness, to his outlook on life— “perspective is 90% of the battle.”
“Whatever you do in life — what you believe, what you see, what you view it as — ultimately affects how you respond,” he says. “Everyday I’m not sitting in front of a judge telling me that I’m facing 12 or 15 years is a win for me.”
Britton also added that while making his business profitable is imperative, what he values more is positively impacting people, especially those in his community.
One of the company’s community initiatives, called the Glizzys Youth Crew Program, mentors at-risk 16- to 21-year-olds who are either on probation or parole, or whose lifestyle predisposes them to the risk of incarceration.
The program, which began with three boys from Britton’s neighborhood, offers participants mentorship, leadership opportunities, involvement in community-building activities and financial literacy education. Moreover, participants are hired as part of Glizzys’ staff, paid minimum wage, qualify for bonuses and receive a free meal each shift.
“As a business owner, it’s exciting to have the ability to change the culture,” Headspeth says. “[We have] the hope of expanding to different parts of the world.”
To qualify for the program, Britton and Headspeth meet with potential participants to learn more about their life journeys and to decipher how Glizzys could best propel them towards health and success.
“When I was that 16-year-old kid, I would always get police and people telling me not to sell drugs,” Britton says. “But I was like, ‘You don’t want me to sell drugs, but you’re not giving me an alternative to put money in my pocket and help feed my family.’”
As such, the Glizzys Youth Crew Program, along with the restaurant, anchors a legacy that Britton wants to create for himself, his community and D.C. at large.
His staff comprises formerly incarcerated individuals, and he believes their visibility sends the message that “[money can be made] legally.”
“I want to give perspective to those who might look at ex-felons as bad people,” he says as he peels a ripe, bright orange mango. “[I want them to see us] and be like, “Y’all cool as shit.”
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