September 5, 2013
I signed a lease the other day and in six months there will be a neighborhood bakery called Bread Furst. It will be at 4434 Connecticut Avenue, a little building next to the car wash near Albemarle Street.
A blue awning is there now that reaches from the building nearly to the street and says W. C. and A. N. Miller. It obscures a one-story shop built around 1928, long and narrow, with a back entrance onto an alley on which there are 14 parking spaces dedicated to the store. That’s no small attribute on upper Connecticut Avenue.
Originally, the building was a neighborhood grocery store, a Piggly Wiggly, no longer around here but a brand still well-known all over the south. After a few years, it became a “Safeway Sanitary Store,” now Safeway. Later Thomas E. Clark, the local plumbing company, bought the building and used it until 1990 when Joseph Whelan bought it for his own plumbing business.
You may remember his name on the building; it’s still there. You may have seen his trucks.
Now he is our landlord and this is how he feels:
I have loved that building from the time that I worked there back in the 60’s and even then had a secret desire to one day own it, even though back then I knew it was an impossible dream.
Well, dreams do come true sometimes.
Right now, the inside looks like this:
It must seem improbable to everyone that after all this time, after nearly three years of looking, I found the right location for a neighborhood bakery.
It seems improbable to me too.
It’s true that my requirements were pretty specific – a residential area, a neighborhood where people walk, some surrounding businesses that bring customers, and most of all a lot of homes owned by people who might like having a little bakery.
I have been looking for a long time and the length of the search, although certainly very frustrating to me, has had some great benefits.
In 2011 when I retreated from the space I had been pursuing in the Dupont-Kalorama area, I had in mind a neighborhood bakery and breakfast restaurant to which I might later add lunch and dinner later.
When, early this year, I nearly rented the storefront of the Chevy Chase Arcade near Chevy Chase Circle, I was thinking about a smaller version of the same thing, a bakery/café.
But then it finally occurred to me that I did not want to do another version of The BreadLine, a bakery café, a lunch place, a sandwich shop. I wanted to start a simple neighborhood bakery far more like Marvelous Market than The BreadLine. The city, in my opinion, doesn’t need more cafés. What people were telling me is that they want a bakery.
For years, even when I owed The BreadLine, people asked me often why there is no neighborhood bakery in Washington. It is mysterious to me too. There are reasons, I believe. People here shop by car; they tend to buy their food at a single stop. Independent food shops have been disappearing in Washington. But surely there is room for a bakery in this city.
Early this year, Ashok Bajaj, Washington’s most prolific restaurateur, asked his realtor Andrea Reid to help me; and over the next few months she seemed to take me as her special hard case, this old man doing something as improbable with his old age as opening a bakery. And just before my 75th birthday, she found the Whelan building.
It’s a terrific little shop in a great location and we’ll be restoring it to its original purpose – a food store.
Six months of work lie before us – finding enough money to do this, upgrading the gas service and massively upgrading the electricity, designing the place, selecting engineers and contractors, buying equipment and waiting for it to be built, construction, and finding staff, creating the menu and testing recipes – all the elements of putting together a new business.
During the next six months, I am going to describe that process here in a periodic letter so that you will be able to follow the creation of Bread Furst, a bakery that will open early next year.
This will be the last such project of my life and one very important to me. Ending my career as a baker and cook with a little neighborhood bakery that might make the same kind of contribution to the city my sister made by creating Politics and Prose will be a tribute to her and a thank you to the city.
There is no better place to do this than in this neighborhood. Really it is serendipitous.
Close to Politics and Prose and to the original Marvelous Market, now gone, it is also a few blocks from the first home I owned in my life and is directly across the street from a little arcade, now being demolished, where, in the early Sixties, I worked for Howard K. Smith at ABC News.
That was my first job in Washington.
I am going to continue this story, writing from time to time during the next six months about the opening of Bread Furst. I will put it on our Website, remarkablebreads.wordpress.com as well as on Twitter, @remarkablebread. If you want to receive it subscribe using the form in the left column. If you would prefer not to receive this, don’t subscribe and you won’t.