Originally published Thursday, September 24, 2020, for Reporting and News Writing class, Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies
When COVID-19 closed Capo Deli’s bar on Florida Avenue in Shaw, beverage manager Rohit Malhotra brainstormed a way for customers to bring their drinks home instead.
In March, in the peak of the stay-at-home orders, the idea of quarantine themed to-go pouches popped into his head. At the same time the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci was in the news every day. As he tossed around names in his head he thought, ‘Pouchy, Fauci, pouchy,’ and then came, “Fauci Pouchy.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. During the pandemic, he gained a popular following with millions of Americans. In DC, his likeness was put on pillows, flags, and yard signs.
“Yeah, so you know what it is like normally. It’s crazy, it’s a lot of fun, DJs, we light the bars on fire, everyone is having a good time,” Malhotra said. “And so I was like ‘How do we get these people to come back,’ and just in the to-go sense. So the theme was the quarantine theme.”
“Fauci Pouchy” was a natural fit for both DC and Malhotra. Plus, the name correlated with the flavors of the pouches, Tiger King, Wuhan Clan, and Zoom Party. Soon after, the #fauchipouchy was Instagrammed 483 times over the summer.
“There was really nothing going on. There was no travel. There was no going out to eat. There was really nothing there, so we kind’ve really captured that, we were like, ‘Here’s something, it’s a fun drink in a not so fun time,’ and I think it boosted people’s spirits,” Malhotra said.
Before becoming a bartender, Malhotra worked a desk job at a naval sub-contractor. He quickly found the 9–5 lifestyle was not for him and started bartending at a Chili’s in Virginia. Soon he was a professional bartender working at places like Pearl Dive and Blackjack as well as a private restaurant, club and a sports bar.
Now, in his 30’s Malhotra has gained a reputation within the industry for his skills as a bartender.
Torrence Swain, the East Coast Regional Manager at Mezcal El Silencio, a Mexican liquor and occasional worker at Capo, has known him for ten years. They met when Malhotra worked at Bar Louie and described Malhotra’s level service then, to be better than a hotel or fine dining bar.
Swain was not surprised that Malhotra would come up with the “Fauchi Pouchy” because of how “cerebral” he is.
“It wasn’t just a gimmick,” Swain said. “He had a whole plan on how he was going to market it, how he was going to expand it, how he was going to use that as a leverage point for the business.”
As a bartender, Malhotra has become well-known enough to have his own clientele. Lorenzo Cabrera met him nine years ago when he worked as a bartender at Blackjack and became a regular at all of the bars he’s worked at since.
“The top thing about him is his ability to connect people, whenever I would go see him, there was always another group of people or another person who is there because of him,” Cabrera said.
From many years of bartending, Malhotra gained a professional philosophy. He believes in consistency, being aware of numbers, and the hospitality above all. He says if the meal is good, but the service is horrible, you won’t want to come back, but if the bartender is good, people will come back.
“Cocktail trends will change, names, concepts, all that will change, but what will never change is the hospitality aspect of it,” Malhotra said.
With winter coming, the DC government is offering $6,000 grants for restaurants to winterize their outdoor space, in hopes that people will dine in cold temperatures. Capo Deli does not have outdoor space available, but Malhotra and the “Fauci Pouchy” represent a chance for resourcefulness in the DC restaurant scene.
“I think as long as the governing powers continue to let the restaurants innovate on the ideas of outdoor dining and continue to facilitate space for them to do so, you can continue to see the ingenuity that resides within DC’s restaurant industry,” Swain said.