Happy Birthday to Us
June 8, 2019
We failed to celebrate our anniversary last month and probably I should have boasted about our being five years old. But it’s not our style to boast. Even so I shouldn’t allow the moment to pass without thanking you.
We opened Bread Furst believing it would be successful. Of course. It’s pretty foolish to risk so much to open a business; but what fool would start a business without believing in the likelihood of success? That’s the nature of entrepreneurship: It’s the ability to persuade yourself that your idea is so good, it is unlikely to fail. That’s the way I felt about opening Bread Furst. Need I add that it doesn’t always work out for everyone? But it did for me.
The other day I walked around the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood at the behest of a long-time resident. She had come to Bread Furst as a customer the preceding weekend and asked me as I served her across the counter and as people often do, whether I wouldn’t like to open a bakery in her neighborhood. I put my hand tenderly on her hand and said what I always say when people say to me, “Will you consider opening a bakery in Tenlytown, Ivy City, Bethesda, Capitol Hill, Silver Spring?”
“I am 80 years old and have here all I want,” I told her. But she implored me to walk with her in Mt. Pleasant and I did so a couple of days later.
I like Mt. Pleasant. I live nearby. It’s decidedly urban and diverse and not too fancy, not yet “developed,” but even if I were still in the bakery-opening business, I would not open a bakery there. I tried to explain as she earnestly showed me a run-down storefront near Mr. Pleasant Avenue, the main drag.
I told her that parking is too difficult. The storefront she likes is invisible. A lot of the neighborhood’s population would not be able to afford to pay prices that are needed to make a small bakery profitable. Many residents are not attracted by our kinds of breads and pastries. The bakery traditions of Mt Pleasant are sharply divided by the geographic origins of its residents.
She told me that everyone in the neighborhood knows Bread Furst that many of her neighbors drive “all the way” across the park. They would so love to have a Bread Furst near them, and that many of the neighbors would patronize us too.
It’s strange: Customers say to me frequently, “I came all the way from Georgetown, Glover Park, Tenlytown, etc. to buy your bread.” They mean that when they say it as a compliment and I take it that way. But Georgetown? That’s three and a half miles from here. Tenleytown? That’s a mile away, less than that. It makes me think sometimes when they say this that they all must have grown up in a French village where their neighborhood bakery was on the same streets as their homes.
Before I opened Marvelous Market in 1990, I did a survey. My sons and I walked in the neighborhood near Politics and Prose, my sister’s bookstore, then already six years old, and left questionnaires for residents to tell us what kind of food store they wanted. I had the benefit of my sister Carla’s experience and vigorous opinions and my own knowledge of this neighborhood in which in 1969 I had bought my first house.
I did what I could to excite the neighborhood about the bakery before we opened and some of our neighbors plunged into the effort, helping to raise money and plan “landscaping,” and even encourage their children’s participation.
We were folded by the neighborhood into its development efforts already underway.
It all worked out. The bakery might have been successful in other neighborhoods. I hope that is the case as I would like very much to see others in other parts of the city do what we have done. And perhaps it is happening.
Jonathan Bethony of Selou Bakery in Shaw
I hope it does happen. I would be wonderful for the city to have a number of small bakeries in many other neighborhoods. But none will have the advantage that I have had twice – with Marvelous Market in 1990 and Bread Furst in 2014. That is so much support from a neighborhood that appreciates incredibly what we do, a neighborhood filled with people who are happy that we are there.
Every day, I look at families with little children and think that we are giving them something given to me every week starting in 1947 when I was old enough to notice – the baked goods of Silber’s in Baltimore, our neighborhood bakery, just a walk from our house. We are giving each day the memories that will last a lifetime. What a gift to them! What a gift to me!