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by Aaron Kraut — July 25, 2014 at 10:10 am 321 0

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

The Green Spoon founder Hanson Cheng, via Ethan Rothstein/ARLNow.comIt’s not often a gluten-free food delivery service wins an award for best tasting food at an event full of established restaurants.

That’s what happened to The Green Spoon founder Hanson Cheng and chef Donn Souliyadath in May, when their dish of Kofte meatballs with tzatziki, spiced kale and chickpeas won the best entree award among 46 restaurants at the Taste of Arlington.

It came at a fortunate time for Cheng, who has expanded the Arlington-based business to other areas around the Washington region, including Bethesda, where The Green Spoon has about 12 clients.

At least a week before the customers want the meal, they order it online from The Green Spoon’s website. They can choose which day they want it and which meal. Lunches are $12.95, dinners are $16.95 and kids meals are $8.95. All are gluten free and all our sourced from local ingredients Cheng said are delivered a day or a day-and-a-half after bought from a farmer, farmers market or other vendor.

The concept is simple: No genetically altered ingredients and no chemical substitutes that you’ll typically find in gluten-free breads or pastas. The Green Spoon, which Cheng founded in January in part because of his own interest in nutrition and fitness, avoids gluten-heavy foods altogether.

“I wanted a chef to go into a farmers market and make and plan out a healthy meal for me for every day of the entire week,” Cheng said. “Basically, I thought about what a personal chef does. And then I got the idea that you could deliver that to people.”

As word about the company grew — no doubt helped by the Taste of Arlington showing — people from Bethesda and other places began inquiring about what it would take to get deliveries.

Cheng said he uses a simply formula to determine when it would be economically viable for his company, now 12 employees strong, to deliver to a particular area. Once he got about five customers in Bethesda, it made sense to start deliveries.

Souliyadath cooks the meals out of an operating Arlington restaurant, which mainly means cooking overnight when the restaurant is closed. Based on the company’s early success, he’s hoping to find a kitchen space just for The Green Spoon.

“That’s our number one priority,” Cheng said. “My guys are cooking overnight during off-hours and it’s just killing them. We’re growing very quickly.”

Cheng said what separates The Green Spoon from similar services such as Power Supply is that while his company uses many of the same Paleo diet principles, it’s not quite as strict and includes direct delivery to customers, instead of pre-arranged pick-up spots.

“It’s not rocket science,” Cheng said. “We do have a great chef, but it just takes a lot more planning. So to win in Taste of Arlington against all these restaurants that don’t have a health focus, it showed people we can make healthy meals that taste amazing.”

Photo via Ethan Rothstein/ARLNow.com

Small Business Weekly Archive

by Aaron Kraut — July 14, 2014 at 12:35 pm 1,205 13 Comments

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

Tiger Mullen took over the former Haven Pizzeria on April 1 and his number one item to fix quickly became one of many dozen to overhaul.

Such is life when you’re trying to completely rebrand and retool an existing restaurant, one that Mullen said had gone downhill after he sold it to a group of minority investors at the end of 2012.

Now, Haven Pizzeria is Pitzze Table (7137 Wisconsin Ave.) and Mullen is still going through a list of to-dos to improve its quality and range of products.

“It is really overwhelming the number of issues that have to be addressed,” Mullen said. “We’re really trying to upscale the whole concept.”

Mullen opened the coal-oven pizzeria concept in February of 2012. Mullen said some of his partners soon wanted to expand. With a general disagreement about how to move forward, Mullen agreed to sell his majority share of the restaurant to shoe partners, who he said went to a new manager and slowly lost what the original Haven Pizzeria was about.

“They were absentee owners who really didn’t understand the concept,” Mullen said.

Customers were starting to notice. Online reviews claimed the pizza and service had gone downhill. In the fall of 2013, Mullen began talks to reacquire ownership of the restaurant, a deal that was completed in time to put him fully in charge starting in April.

Since, Mullen said new management has looked at all the details. Now, pizza dough is required to rest for a 48-hour period before cooking, not the few hours before the lunch or dinner rush that was previously used. Mullen switched out the restaurant’s Italian plum tomatoes for San Marazano tomatoes and went form a mass-produced mozzarella to a fresher, hand-pulled cheese.

“Our customers that had stopped coming in started coming back in and trying the new product,” Mullen said. “We’re working hard on basics nuts and bolts, trying to get things delivered to the table in the right order and in a timely fashion.”

The new name — Pitzze Table — is part of the restaurant’s decor. The new menu and wine list, originally promised for mid-June, will take some more time. Mullen said he hopes to have it implemented by August 1.

“There were just too many other items or issues that needed to be addressed,” Mullen said.

One new facet of Pitzze Table that is up and running is the morning coffee service and toast bar. From 7 a.m.-10 a.m. each day, the bar is converted into a self-serve coffee shop with Zeke’s Coffee products and fresh bread, complete with toasting stations and toppings.

Mullen hasn’t yet been able to widely market the new concept, but it’s taken hold with some folks on the way to work or in need of a place for early morning, out-of-office meetings. Pitzze Table has wireless internet and offers free newspapers, plus a juice bar.

“It’s a little bit different alternative than the typical bagel and pastries that you see in the other coffee shops and delis,” Mullen said. “We really do want to offer something since we do have such a big, attractive facility.”

Some photos via Pitzze Table

Small Business Weekly Archive

by Aaron Kraut — June 18, 2014 at 9:10 am 988 0

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

For a long time, Kensington had the reputation as the place you go for antiques and to get your car fixed.

That is changing as the Town of roughly 2,200 people sees an influx of interior design studios, clothing boutiques, spas and restaurants. In the last year, 10 new retailers have opened in the Town and just outside the Town’s borders in an area once dominated by auto repair shops.

Now, mixed among the timeworn furniture and zany collectibles of Antique Row is a coffee shop, studio for art and design classes and a Mid-Century Modern furniture retailer who owes much of his popularity to the TV show “Mad Men.”

“We’re seeing a much more vibrant and stronger retail mix and at the same time, we’re building on our heritage as a destination for antiques” said Town of Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman. “It’s kind of the next generation of retailers.”

Meghan McNamara opened her combination design studio, furniture rehab center and boutique store with co-owner Regan Billingsley in November along a line of repair shops and light industrial uses on Howard Avenue west of Connecticut Avenue.

There’s no real streetscape, no sidewalks and little if any landscaping (something Fosselman asked for help changing through the Montgomery County capital budget).

But there is plenty of space for relatively cheap. McNamara said that wasn’t one of her motivations for opening in Kensington. It was more the number of studios on the street.

Her Regan & Meaghan studio has room for a store, spray booth and monthly workshops classes. Another factor for the Bethesda native was the growing number of do-it-yourself home design types relocating to the street.

“It really has that focus on industrial arts. There are metal workers on the street. To be immersed among things like that, that was the first layer as to why we chose Kensington,” McNamara said. “We just want to be around other artists.”

McNamara’s client base is region-wide and the business has done it’s own public relations campaign. Bahia Akerele, who opened On The Purple Couch last September, has put forth a similar effort just to let people know what’s happening on Howard Avenue.

When she went on WUSA9 to talk about her store’s Chalk Paint products, Fosselman sent a link via email to people throughout the Town.

“I thought that was pretty cool, it seems to me that he is interested in bringing people into Kensington,” Akerele said. “People don’t know what’s on West Howard. They know the original Antique Row and that there’s car repair places here. Now of course, there’s the car repair and other stuff.”

Akerele moved her business from downtown Silver Spring.

“Kensington and the antique district just felt more like-minded with what I was trying to do with my business,” Akerele said. “Silver Spring was just too much for more too soon. Not having that bustling downtown retail, but to be able to offer a workshop space was good for me.”

The evolution of Kensington’s business district started in part when Fosselman took over as mayor in 2006. He got the General Assembly to allow full liquor licenses in the Town, which was essentially dry at the time. That started attracting some restaurants and foot traffic. Some failed. But others, such as the K Town Bistro, sub*urban trading co. and Java Nation (10516 Connecticut Ave.) have thrived.

The cafe and coffee shop that Kensington resident Henry Cabana opened last year will go in front of the county’s Board of License Commissioners on Thursday for liquor license approval. Soon, a wood oven-style pizza place called Frankly Pizza will open on Armory Avenue.

The second component of that was a Town-wide public relations and marketing campaign, which took form when the Town contracted Rockville-based Maier & Warner in 2009. The firm created a website, Explore Kensington, and helped improve and market Town events.

The third part was a new county master plan, which will allow some mixed-use zoning in the Town. Still, don’t expect near the density of downtown Bethesda.

“While we like Bethesda or some of the other downtown areas, we don’t want to be that intense or that dense,” Fosselman said. “But at the same time, people would like to have more ability to walk places and get almost everything they need.”

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by Aaron Kraut — June 12, 2014 at 2:35 pm 1,159 0

Lilit Cafe, Old Georgetown Road

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

Lilit Cafe was among the first restaurants in the Washington area to go all the way in on the gluten-free concept.

In a Bethesda restaurant scene filled to the brim, it has proven to be the unique aspect that’s kept the Old Georgetown Road spot around.

“The first couple of years, it was really hard. Slowly, slowly people started coming,” said owner Davidner Singh, who opened Lilit in 2008. “Bethesda is a tough place because there’s so much choice. To come up and survive, you have to do something different or special. Then you’ll be able to survive in this place.”

Singh moved to the U.S. from India, first to work as a sommelier on a cruise ship, then in hotel management and finally as a restaurant manager. Eight years ago, he finally opened his own place at 7921 Old Georgetown Rd., near the very edge of downtown Bethesda.

Lilit Cafe, gelatoBecause of a family member with a gluten allergy, Singh decided to start Lilit by offering some gluten-free items right away. That eventually built up into an entire separate menu of gluten-free pitas, baguettes, bagels, donuts, sandwiches, paninis and even gourmet gelato. Gluten-free customers began vouching for Lilit online and, eventually, Lilit Cafe became a destination for those with celiac disease and those who believe gluten-free diets provide health benefits.

This June, the DoubleTree Bethesda held a gluten-free expo with vendors and about 2,500 attendees. You can guess where many of those people ate out.

The cafe doubles as a beer and wine store and occupies a spot on what many call the dividing line of downtown Bethesda — Old Georgetown Road.

Singh said that means less foot traffic than Bethesda Row and other sections of the Central Business District, though more accessible parking is an advantage.

He’s also buying more expensive gluten-free ingredients (a typical gluten-free loaf for Lilit might cost $10) and making sure to keep the preparation of regular and gluten-free dishes separate. In the long-run, it’s an approach that has worked out.

“Because my advertising is all word-of-mouth, it’s the best type of advertising but it’s slow. It takes time for people to get to know us,” Singh said. “It took us a few years.”

Small Business Weekly Archive

by Aaron Kraut — May 21, 2014 at 11:45 am 603 0

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda, Chevy Chase or some place nearby. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

At roughly the same time last Friday night, there was an 84-person prom dinner, 82-person wedding rehearsal dinner and 34-person graduation party going on in the various private event rooms of the venerable Positano Ristorante Italiano on Fairmont Avenue.

The prom group (from Churchill High School) was a record size for the 37-year-old Bethesda restaurant. But it wasn’t altogether a new challenge for owner and “Chief Everything Officer” Jimmy Traettino. This Friday, there will be prom groups of 40 guests and 36 guests, then two weddings parties on Saturday.

For Positano — which Traettino’s parents opened on Norfolk Avenue when he was a sophomore at Whitman High School — the biggest challenge is outside its front doors.

For almost three years, construction on a Fairmont Avenue apartment building has meant disruptions and sidewalk closures. With a second apartment project underway directly across the street, Fairmont Avenue has effectively been shut down to all pedestrian traffic at Norfolk Avenue.

A look at a temporary and narrow “Pedestrian Walkway” set up with two orange barriers tells that story.

“If you have 500 restaurants in Bethesda and one of those restaurants has a road closed, you go to one of the other 499,” Traettino said. “So it’s been pretty tough the last few years.”

The private events make up a substantial part of the restaurant’s business. Casual diners are more difficult to come by, although many longtime Bethesda residents deal with the active construction zone almost out of habit.

The restaurant moved to its current location at 4948 Fairmont Ave. in 1980. It has since expanded to cover four different lots. The Churchill prom group was treated to Positano’s Italian classics on white linen table cloths in the restaurant’s original dining room.

Many of the employees have worked at the restaurant for close to 20 years, or longer. You won’t find reviews of Positano every few years from the usual restaurant critics. But there’s little doubt it’s a highly appreciated place.

Last year, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot stopped by to present Traettino and staff with a commendation. A few months ago, Councilmember Roger Berliner’s reelection campaign held its kickoff event in Positano’s private reception room.

“When you have a family business, it’s literally like your home. So you treat people when they come in like they’re entering your house,” Traettino said. “They’re happiness is most important to you. I think you’ll find that at any long-established family business. No bells, no whistles, no gimmicks, no smoke and mirrors. You get what you see.”

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by Aaron Kraut — April 22, 2014 at 10:10 am 241 0

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda, Chevy Chase or some place nearby. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

Bahia Akerele’s On the Purple Couch gets attention because of its most prominent product. But her hope is that it becomes successful because of its hands-on, creative approach.

Akerele opened the part-furniture store, part-workshop space last September at 4228 Howard Ave. among the warehouses of Kensington’s Howard Avenue West Antique District.

She is one of about 350 licensed retailers of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint products in the U.S., which she said brings customers from around the region.

The products are licensed to small, locally-owned stores instead of home improvement giants precisely because learning how to use it requires some one-on-one attention.

The store also sells furniture remade with the paint, jewelry and luxury scented candles.

The unique aspect of the business happens toward the back of the warehouse, where two tables and a color wheel on the wall make up the workshop space. There Akerele leads people interested in upcycling or home decorating in tutorials of how to use the product.

She began moving the business from a boutique space in Silver Spring in August when she realized her home and clothes store was relying heavily on sales of the paint and paint-related products.

“It really took over the business and I was running two businesses in one — the clothes and the home,” Akerele said. “I thought, ‘I’m new enough to switch up my game quickly and figure out what is a better niche.’ This product was just really good. It would allow me to manage my mom life, family life and still do some entrepreneurial stuff.”

The paint’s main selling point is that it’s versatile enough to paint furniture without stripping, priming or sanding. It generally requires a coat or two of paint and some waxing on the back end. As Akerele demonstrates in her workshops, it works for creating a number of styles.

“I can develop and create a place where people can come and learn about Chalk Paint, learn how to redo and reform their pieces,” Akerele said.

The garage-shaped store space gave her room to be creative, something she wants her customers to feel too.

There is a purple couch and a shade of purple Akerele created herself covers one of the walls. On the work tables, she shows how to paint and style old drawers, desks, chairs and other items. Classes run from $75 for a special Mother’s Day workshop to $180.

She has someone come in and help on Sundays, but for now, Akerele runs the business almost by herself.

“It’s only the mom in this mom and pop,” Akerele said.

Most workshops will have about seven people and the business has so far brought in mostly women. A few of Akerele’s clients are from restaurants or other small businesses looking to spruce up their own spaces.

It’s that interactive experience Akerele said sets On the Purple Couch apart in a crowded market of products and styles.

“It’s almost like an underground movement that’s blossoming up in the DIY world,” Akerele said.

Small Business Weekly Archive

by Aaron Kraut — March 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm 223 1 Comment

Joyful Bath Co. kiosk in Westfield Montgomery

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

Rochel Roland describes her Bethesda-based Joyful Bath Co. as the classic story of a personal hobby turned business idea.

But her approach to selling a variety of all-natural, organic bath salts, soaps and gifts isn’t following the typical small business playbook.

It started in 2008. After friends and family members told Roland how much they liked her scented soaps and salts, the Kensington resident (who pursued a Masters Degree in agronomy in her spare time) decided to put her love for mixing and matching bath products to the test.

Her first sale was at a school holiday sale in Potomac. She started selling her products at farmers markets and eventually got picked up by area Whole Foods stores and drugstore.com after a successful display at a trade show.

“For a couple years, those are the types of things that I did as I was trying to figure out supply chains and how to run a product company,” Roland said. “We kind of jumped from the farmers market and school events, right up to the big stuff. We didn’t have a lot of time in between. I had a lot to learn really fast.”

In February, Roland opened a kiosk at Westfield Montgomery Mall in the Nordstrom wing near the Brookstone store, a local business in a sea of well-known national chains.

“We’re hoping that it can be a business model for other malls as well,” Roland said.

Roland’s pitch is her ingredients. She uses honey, green tea, mustard seed and other herbal and botanical items “in a totally different way,” than what’s on the market. Joyful Bath Co.’s salts and soaps use real vanilla, something Roland claimed no one else does.

Her products don’t leave rings or residue in bath tubs, something she calls the “bath buzzkill.”

One of the things that I’m excited about and proud of is the uniqueness of the formulas,” Roland said. “We’re real purists in terms of our ingredients.”

Thanks to a connection with Honest Tea co-founder and Bethesda resident Seth Goldman, she joined the Bethesda Green Business Incubator in October 2012. In her previous business, she shared a St Elmo Avenue office with Goldman (before Honest Tea moved to its existing headquarters on Bethesda Avenue) and remembers her employees helping Honest Tea unload boxes of tea in the middle of Woodmont Triangle.

Goldman, one of the main organizers of the Bethesda Green nonprofit, suggested she bring her product and business idea to the incubator.

She’s selling the products directly to customers at the mall, online through the company’s website and through wholesalers. And it’s working.

She’s getting ready to sign a lease for a new warehouse office — a light manufacturing space nearby in North Bethesda.

Small Business Weekly Archive

by Aaron Kraut — March 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm 151 0

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

Peak Impact business coach Diane YochelsonA business coach is different things to different people, but to Bethesda’s Diane Yochelson, it’s all about changing a client’s mindset.

Yochelson started her Peak Impact business consulting firm in 2011, shortly after she became a certified Professional Business Coach in 2010.

Her clients are mainly those in the service industry — financial planners, lawyers, insurance companies, small real estate firms and other business consultants — having trouble generating profit, finding new leads or making time for life outside work.

“The role of the coach is to help the client shift perspective,” Yochelson said. “It’s to say, ‘Let’s start peeling back the onion at various layers and understand what happened that time things went bad.’ It’s to understand what went wrong, how it went wrong and how you can change it.”

Yochelson worked on the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee before going into commercial real estate. She moved back to Bethesda in 2008 after a seven-year stint in San Diego and got into the idea of business coaching while working with a career coach.

“I was so blown away by the impact it’s had on me and I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Yochelson said. “I found I missed the business side of things. I was an entrepreneur and in building my own business I started learning what it took and saw it wasn’t easy.”

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by Aaron Kraut — March 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm 242 0

Inside Big Planet Comics on Cordell Avenue

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

In 1986, comics were hot.

There was the “Dark Knight,” the “Watchmen,” and the reboot of the “Superman” series, three superhero comics that meant big initial success for Big Planet Comics, the venerable Bethesda comic shop that opened in 1986 on Cordell Avenue and hasn’t looked back.

To sustain the business, founder Joel Pollack and partner Greg Bennett have had to walk the tightrope of changing with the times while retaining what first made Big Planet a destination for comic book seekers from around the D.C. region, nation and world.

The Bethesda Big Planet store today looks very different than the one Pollack opened in 1986, and not just because it’s in its third Woodmont Triangle location at 4849 Cordell Ave.

The store’s shelves are now dominated by graphic novels. The lengthy comic stories have become the norm in the comic book industry, where traditional subscription-based periodicals used to rule.

And those graphic novels no longer cater to teenage boys looking for superhero stories. Bennett said the client base at Big Planet these days is about half male and half female, and covers ages 4-80.

“The industry’s completely changed, because up until ’86, if you wanted to read old comics, you had to go buy old comics,” Bennett said. “Starting in ’86, when they put out the “Watchmen,” when they put the “Dark Knight” in a book, and now if you look behind you, that whole wall is book collections of comics. It’s gone from being a collector-driven market to a much more reader-driven market.”

Big Planet started on the second floor of the Cordell Avenue building next door to its current store. It moved to Fairmont Avenue in 1991 before moving back to Cordell Avenue.

In the 18 years since the Bethesda store opened, Big Planet has opened up in three other locations: Vienna, College Park and U Street. All have different types of customers, which means different types of collections.

But for a business with such deep D.C.-area roots, Big Planet attracts plenty of folks from elsewhere.

The store does a podcast and has listeners from all over the world.

“Usually, if they come to D.C. as a tourist, they make a plan to go to one of the four Big Planet stores when they’re in town,” Bennett said.

That means a lot people from outside Bethesda coming to Woodmont Triangle to seek the store out.

In a changing neighborhood, Bennett said it’s good to have that kind of popularity. And just like the comic book industry, Bethesda has changed a lot since Big Planet first opened its doors.

“When we opened in ’86, there were less than 10 restaurants in downtown Bethesda,” Bennett said. “And the comic industry has changed with it.”

Small Business Weekly Archive

by Aaron Kraut — March 7, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,034 0

Missy Carr, owner of the Go Fish food truck, opened a stand inside the Bethesda Farm Women's Cooperative Market on Friday

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

This is Missy Carr’s major expansion.

The L’Academie de Cuisine graduate was among the first to open a Montgomery County food truck when she opened Go Fish in 2011.

In a few years, her seafood truck built up a following in Bethesda. In 2012, it was named Bethesda’s best food truck by readers of Bethesda Magazine.

But a lack of parking, the threat of parking tickets and opposition from brick-and-mortar restaurants meant Carr rarely actually made it to downtown Bethesda, instead opting for weekly events hosted by office property owners, catering gigs and outdoor markets.

Now, with a relatively cheap spot in the Bethesda Farm Women’s Cooperative Market, Carr is hoping to better establish her business.

“This is a good foothold for me, because it’s so hard to get in Bethesda,” said Carr, who opened the stand in the market on Friday. “Everybody wants to be in Bethesda, but there’s nowhere to go. So when this opportunity came up, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is a good chance to get my brand out there and some more of our stuff.’”

Having a more permanent landing spot is especially important to Carr, who hopes to go back to offering fresh seafood on a regular basis. It’s the kind of business that relies on regular customers, which are harder to come by if your business is always on the move.

“The problem with fresh fish, when you have a product like that, people want to know where you are,” Carr said. “You have regular customers. They come to this place and they know on a Saturday for instance they’re going to get my product. We were always mobile.”

Go Fish was the second food truck in Montgomery County, Carr said. The first, Sub Urban Bros, has since called it quits. The Go Fish food truck will continue. Carr has help to keep it going on days when she’s at the market.

Go Fish and the market are open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

With start-up costs of a few thousand dollars, the opening at the Market is serving as a next step of sorts. Carr said she’s not quite at the level to move her crab cakes, mahi mahi fish tacos and lobster rolls to a permanent brick-and-mortar, though she has glanced at building vacancies.

“Having a place where people can count on to come and know we’re going to be here three days a week is a big opportunity for me,” Carr said.

Previously featured in Small Business Weekly: Simon Plant CareUrban Country | Cera Wax Studio | Sports Extra | Gallery St. Elmo

by Aaron Kraut — February 4, 2014 at 2:35 pm 229 2 Comments

Simon Yeo, owner of Simon Plant Care

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

A few neighbors asked 12-year-old Simon Yeo to water their plants when they were on vacation, then a few more did and a few more followed.

Four years later, the 16-year-old Chevy Chase Village resident has made an incorporated business out of it, complete with five other neighborhood teenagers working for him and about 30 clients in and around Chevy Chase.

Simon Plant Care is the work of Yeo, a 10th grader at The Field School in D.C. who has expanded the business to include snow shoveling and leaf removal.

“I didn’t mind doing it and I always wanted to start a business, so I thought I could start a business out of this,” Yeo said. “At first, I just kind of put some posters up.”

It caught on enough that Yeo decided to go through the legal steps of making the business official, something he said was surprising at first.

Each client gets a free estimate and prices start at $5 a day for small gardens and can go up to $15 a day for just a day, a week or an even longer period of time.

Yeo’s website, blog and Twitter feed all promise service tailored to each client’s tastes.

“I’ve learned a lot about having to deal with clients,” said Yeo, who plans to expand this summer.

Yeo doesn’t see it as something he’ll hold on to when he heads to college and has thought about selling the business.

“People are impressed by what we’re doing, so that kind of helps them tell their friends and their friends contact us,” Yeo said. “It just started to grow naturally. Now, we’re always busy, sometimes too busy.”

Photo via Simon Plant Care

Previously featured in Small Business Weekly: Urban Country | Cera Wax Studio | Sports Extra | Gallery St. Elmo

by Aaron Kraut — January 29, 2014 at 11:55 am 0

One of Urban Country's in-store vignettes designed with products from Lee Industries, photo via Urban Country

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

There are probably about 10 different businesses that operate under the roof of Rachelle Roth’s Urban Country showroom.

Her Bethesda Row store (7117 Arlington Rd.) sells thousands of pieces of furniture, home accessories and other furnishings across different categories. But the store also functions as the home for an interior design business for private homeowners and clients in the design industry.

With a core group of 14 employees and a 6,500-square-foot showroom, Roth’s small business has grown significantly since she and her husband started it in 1991 across the street from the Tastee Diner.

“We just try to stay creative, different and one step ahead. It’s very visually stimulating,” Roth said. “I love creating and that’s my forte.”

From Feb. 9 to Feb. 16, Urban Country will take part in the national “LEE Loves Local” sale from furniture supplier Lee Industries. All orders on Lee products at the store that week will get a 10 percent discount and Urban Country will host an all-day open house reception on Tuesday, Feb. 11 showcasing some of its favorite stuff.

Roth now runs the store with the help of her two daughters, Jillian and Sascha. Less foot traffic in Woodmont Triangle (the store used to be at 7801 Woodmont Ave.) and recruitment from Federal Realty brought the store to the corner of Bethesda Avenue and Arlington Road in 2008.

A few months later, the recession hit.

“It was kind of scary, but the good news here is we’re a creative bunch and if Plan A doesn’t work, you go to Plan B,” Roth said. “We’re good at that and we’re good at what we do.”

Every vignette is carefully choreographed with the help of a visual director. Roth and staff take home hundreds of photos from market shows to figure out which pieces should go where and with which other pieces.

And Roth, a Bethesda resident, said she’s grateful for the client base that keeps coming back through the years.

“We have a great area here,” Roth said. “People say, ‘Well what do you buy?’ To me, people buy what they like and I think people love what we do here.”

Photo via Urban Country

Previously featured in Small Business Weekly: Sports Extra | Gallery St. Elmo | Cera Wax Studio

by Aaron Kraut — January 21, 2014 at 1:35 pm 173 0

Monica Gomez, co-owner of Cera Wax Studio in Bethesda, is nearing the one-year anniversary of her business

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

It takes 49 seconds for the elevator at 4866 Cordell Ave. to reach the third floor space of Cera Wax Studio.

But what could be the slowest elevator in Bethesda hasn’t slowed down business for sisters Monica and Anna Gomez, who will celebrate their first year in Woodmont Triangle next month.

“It has gone absolutely better than could be expected,” said Monica Gomez, who moved to the area from her hometown of San Diego seven years ago. “It’s not just Bethesda, it’s DC and Silver Spring. I wouldn’t change anything.”

The studio does hair removal, typically a refferal-based business that relies on word of mouth and that, so far, has an excellent reputation on social network site Yelp.

“From day one, almost the day we opened our doors, our clients have been absolutely amazing with supporting us through Yelp,” Gomez said. “When we look at our growth, the majority of our new clients come in through client referrals. People want to know, ‘Who did you see, what did you have done, how was your experience, are you OK, did you come out alive, do you want to go back again?

“Yelp is one of those things that I consider essential to a speciality business like ours,” Gomez said.

Gomez, a licensed aesthetician who has been in the business since she was 16, found the third-floor location last year and figured a Zengo Cycle on the ground floor would be a good co-tenant. The space has three treatment rooms, three waxers — including Gomez — and five total employees.

“As soon as I came in, I loved it,” Gomez said. “I knew it was what we were looking for, the location the character in old Bethesda, if you will.”

She anticipates hiring some more staff in time from summer, when bikini waxing for summer beach trips is in high demand.

“We envision growing into different locations and envision this being our flagship location,” Gomez said. “We’ve been very welcomed by the community and the support has been amazing.”

Previously featured in Small Business Weekly: Sports Extra | Gallery St. Elmo

by Aaron Kraut — January 14, 2014 at 10:30 am 244 0

Inside the Gallery St. Elmo furniture consignment shop on St Elmo Avenue

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

For the most part, the long, narrow buildings of Woodmont Triangle used to be home to auto repair shops and other light industrial uses.

At Gallery St. Elmo (4938 St Elmo Ave.) one of the walls was originally an overhead garage door. It’s now painted and blanketed with luxury furnishings on consignment, an apt analogy for owner Jill Martin’s mission of reinventing old products.

“I’m very careful about the quality,” said Martin, who took over ownership of the store about three years ago after working there as an employee. “We have sort of a solid, upscale look. We’re not trendy. We’re traditional but very useful and people want to be able to buy this furniture.”

The Gallery offers the pricey couches and chairs you’ll see at Ethan Allen, Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and others for up to a third or even half off the original price. It also sells some antiques, contemporary furnishings and jewelry.

Martin has about 6,500 consigners in the store’s database and sends a weekly email detailing new stock to about 2,500 subscribers.

“You have to be online,” Martin said. “And those are people who have given me their email and are interested in seeing the new things we have. I think you’ve got to be really careful with overreaching or overloading people with information.”

The store was featured in Southern Living magazine along with a number of other Bethesda furniture and gift shops that have started to make a name for downtown Bethesda’s small business community.

Martin has found solid footing selling to “the more traditional” market of Bethesda, as opposed to some of the “funkier and trendier” consignment shops she sees around the D.C. area.

The alley outside Martin’s door that used to come in handy for car mechanics is also an advantage for her. She’s constantly moving furniture into and out of the store. She hopes her need for ground-floor space won’t eventually price her out of an area where the rent continues to grow.

“In terms of [Bethesda] being a go-to destination for shopping, I think it’s very much still a work in progress,” Martin said. “This spot meets my needs. Whether or not I can continue to pay this rent is the bigger question and rent is what it’s going to all boil down to.”

Previously featured in Small Business Weekly: Sports Extra

by Aaron Kraut — January 7, 2014 at 10:15 am 334 0

Inside of Sports Extra, a Woodmont Triangle sports equipment shop that caters to Bethesda's lacrosse crazy market The in-shop printer that produces team uniforms, shirts and more customized equipment at Sports Extra

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

In lacrosse-crazy Bethesda, a locally owned sports retailer with a focus on the game can do more than survive.

Todd Bradley has been running Sports Extra (7817 Old Georgetown Rd.) since 2007 and took over ownership in 2012 with his wife, Heather. In a market dominated by big chains such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Modell’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority, the Woodmont Triangle business has found a viable niche.

“Lots of people come in here and they ask how we’re in business. It’s a fair question, but really we have more business than we can handle sometimes,” said Bradley, known as t-shirt Todd.

The store does it by providing youth sports teams with the full service treatment, including custom equipment orders and in-shop uniform design, printing and embroidery. The store’s walls are full of shirts and other items emblazoned with logos of local high schools.

Bradley is a Rockville native who went to Gonzaga College High School in D.C. and worked at the store under original owner and youth football coach Paul Saah. Local sports are key to his business, which also does shirt printing and embroidery for a number of Woodmont Triangle restaurants.

Lacrosse equipment is the store’s main driver, and in an area home to prestigious high school programs, summer club teams and even winter indoor squads, that’s an excellent fit.

“We do lacrosse year-round and it’s really become a business we can rely on year-round,” Bradley said. “It wouldn’t succeed everywhere. But in the Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Northwest D.C. area, there is a lot of lacrosse being played.”

As for running a small retail business in Woodmont Triangle, where restaurants rule and some have left for seemingly greener pastures, Bradley said it’s about carving out a place doing something the big companies don’t.

“You gotta find your niche,” Bradley said. “We know what we’re doing here. At some of the bigger box stores, it’s just people looking for a job. We have people working here from the lacrosse world. They’re familiar with the sport and they’re familiar with the team side and that’s the big part.”

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