Small town boy
By Michael M. Santiago

David Witt carries to-go boxes of his cream of vegetable soup for a customer. David operates DC Kitchen, a pay-what-you-can restaurant, in downtown Paris. "It's not so much a's community," he says.

David Witt can barely walk 10 feet without recognizing someone he knows and starting up a 20-minute conversation. Although David has lived in some of the biggest cities around the world – most recently New York City – he could not stay away from the place he calls home. The home of the famed Triple Crown-winning racehorse Secretariat, of Garrett Morgan, the African American inventor of the three-way traffic light. The place they and 10,000 other people call home: Paris, Kentucky.

"I'm a big city guy," David says, "but I'm also a small town boy."

In 2016, David, 58, who holds degrees in economics and international public service and spent much of his life working in finance and the non-profit worlds, moved back to Paris and found himself needing something to do. He wanted to tackle something that 12.9 percent of the population of Kentucky battles: food insecurity. So he made and sold sandwiches at the local farmer's market that he would often give away and would donate whatever proceeds he made back to the market. After experimenting with a couple of iterations of the restaurant, he opened DC Kitchen on Main Street, where he strives to make sure people are provided with what he calls “meals with dignity.”

The hot and nutritious meals are “pay-what-you-can,” no questions asked. Cream of vegetable soup with pita and za’atar-spiced olive oil, pasta e fagioli – the meals are different every day the restaurant is open, with the menu posted on Facebook. He dons a derby hat, a stylish alternative to the hairnets typically worn in kitchens. He first spotted the hat on the street in Miami. Once he found them online, he says, he “bought every hat they had."

DC Kitchen is a community hub where folks from all over town come to eat – sometimes with a bottle of wine in hand – especially for the popular Curry Tuesdays. On any given day, hanging out at DC Kitchen can lead to trivia nights a few doors down at Rose and Thorne.

David is also involved with the Paris-Bourbon County Library, where he serves as president of the five-member Board of Trustees. Recently the library has held several contentious public meetings as the small town has found itself in a fight over book banning that has been flaring up in school districts and libraries across the country. While that fight rages on, he and other members of the community are working to make the library the first and only sanctuary for books in Kentucky.

He is also thinking about what the future holds for DC Kitchen.

"I would like to continue, I would like for it to grow," David says. "It's not so much a restaurant, which is why I never call it that. People come and they interact. It's community."

Mark Adler (left) and Jessica Perry (right) of the Paris-Bourbon County Library meet with David (top) and Denise Lyons (bottom), the state librarian of Kentucky. The group met to discuss how to combat book banning attempts and make the library a sanctuary for books.

David garnishes his pasta e fagioli with parsley before he takes it out to customers at DC Kitchen.

David walks along Main Street with Lyra Miller, who owns Lil's Coffee House, talking about the broken espresso machine at the coffee house.

Brad Parrent maneuvers his pontoon boat through duckweed and branches as his wife Cynthia Chriswell jokes with

David. The group celebrated Cynthia's birthday with an afternoon boat ride on Stoner Creek.

Emery Caywood embraces David, who gave him a ride home from DC Kitchen.

David tenderly places his head on Kathy Werking's as they joke at the end of a campaign event for Kathy, who is running for County Magistrate.

Catesby Simpson (left) and Emery Caywood (right) watch as David brings over a bowl of cream of vegetable soup at DC Kitchen.

David and his brother Doug Witt take a walk through their farm that has been in the family for six generations.

Morgan Johnson looks on as David cuddles her retired racing greyhound Kaycee during trivia night at Rose and Thorne.

David takes a short break from meal preparation at DC Kitchen, wearing his signature derby hat.