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by Aaron Kraut — March 11, 2015 at 2:15 pm 1,462 0

Inside of the new Bee Bee Designs store 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.

It’s not often a small, family-owned business based in North Jersey seeks out a second storefront in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle.

Brian Bailey, though, has a unique enough business that locals from Bethesda, Potomac and Rockville have been making the trek up to his Bee Bee Designs store for years.

Before the all-in-one summer camp clothing and supply store established its online business, Bailey’s mom (the store’s previous owner) did road shows and soon had customers from Maryland coming up to the shop in Livingston, N.J.

“We actually had a customer base already in the Bethesda area,” Bailey said. “We researched it and it fit really well. We decided to give it a whirl.”

Bailey, who co-owns Bee Bee Designs with his wife Abbie, opened the Bethesda location (4823 St Elmo Avenue) in late February.

The premise is simple: Customers make an appointment and a staff member runs them through everything they and their kid might need, want or require a replacement of for their summer sleepaway camp.

And at Bee Bee, that does mean pretty much everything. The store is stocked with trunks, bus bags, camp chairs, clothing, storage labels, address books, flashlights, shower caddies, clocks, pillows, bedding, color war gear and stationery and more.

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by BethesdaNow.com — February 26, 2015 at 10:00 am 322 0

Maryland Stamp & Coins in Bethesda, via Orrin Konheim

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.

By Orrin Konheim

As it celebrates the 40th anniversary of Maryland Stamps and Coins, the Most family takes pride in being a true mom-and-pop-business in an era when fewer and fewer are left.

When asked what he’s most proud of about his store, family patriarch Herman Most answered, “The fact that I succeeded and we’re still here.”

Most first developed an interest in stamps as a child growing up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. His uncle was a stamp collector and would bring home large duffle bags full of used stamps the two would sort through.

Many years later, Herman and sons Ernest and David have helped spread the joy of stamp collecting to a wider community of kids and adults in suburban Maryland.

After moving to Bethesda in 1962, Herman lent a helping hand to anyone interested in stamp collecting before he even had the store space. Many of the store’s customers today are people who have been associates of Herman Most before he opened the storefront space at 7720 Wisconsin Avenue in 1974.

“We’ve been here a long time so the kids come in and they become interested,” explained Most. “They then become adults and then they get interested and become customers.”

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by BethesdaNow.com — February 17, 2015 at 1:25 pm 713 1 Comment

(From left to right) Ethan Woodson, Lisa Owens, Alex Soumbadze and Jeremy Smith, photo via On The Mat Sports

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.

By Orrin Konheim

On the Mat Sports International got its start through a student who was determined to keep the Taekwondo tradition alive in Bethesda.

“At the time, I was going through a divorce,” said Lisa Owen, who had been taking lessons at the DC Martial Arts Academy on Bethesda Avenue. “Taekwondo is a very positive outlet for me and I wanted to get healthier and stronger. I wanted it to continue it and I had the means to do so.”

As DC Martial Arts closed, Owen invested in new retail space and partnered with instructors Ethan Woodson, Jeremy Smith, and Alex Soumbadze to open On the Mat in 2011 at 6936 Wisconsin Avenue.

“We were able to hold onto a majority of the students. They stuck with us. They show their loyalty to us so obviously we wanted to pay them back for their perseverance with us,” Soumbadze said.

Soumbadze has lived in Bethesda since age 5, when his parents came here as diplomats from the Asian nation of Georgia. The 2006 graduate of Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School described his introduction to the sport as a chance encounter.

“[My parents] wanted me to do soccer and they wanted me to do karate, but you know a lot of parents don’t know the difference between Taekwondo and karate,” Soumbadze said. “I went there and saw the advanced belts and saw the black belts and this was something I wanted to do.

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by BethesdaNow.com — February 2, 2015 at 1:25 pm 616 4 Comments

Louisiana Kitchen and Bayou Bar, Bethesda

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.

By Orrin Konheim

Neither Carlos Arana nor Jose Blanco had tried Louisiana cuisine when they first set foot in Peter Finkhauser’s Louisiana-themed restaurants looking for work.

“When I came here, I didn’t have in mind being a chef. I just came to find work in anything,” said Blanco, who immigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1976.

Blanco and Arana found themselves under the wing of German chef Peter Finkhauser. Arana found work as a busboy while Blanco was an assistant chef.

Since Finkhauser died in 2008, the two have proudly carried on his tradition. Arana is the general manager of Louisiana Kitchen and Bayou Bar with Blanco acting as head chef.

The restaurant (4907 Cordell Avenue) was the third iteration of Finkhauser’s original New Orleans Emporium, which was also known as Louisiana Express Company and from 1988-2008 was on Bethesda Avenue.

“I wouldn’t trade this menu for another one,” said Arana. “I like the cuisine and the dishes and the people that bring the culture from Louisiana. I like the music too.”

Most important, Arana has been able to keep the customers who built up loyalty to the Bethesda Avenue location.

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by BethesdaNow.com — January 13, 2015 at 2:35 pm 489 4 Comments

Some of the products at the Bethesda Vapor Company, via Bethesda Vapor Company

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.

By Orrin Konheim

Tucked on the second floor of a Woodmont Triangle building is a store that’s not just trying to cater to the hottest recreational trend but is also trying to save lives.

“I smoked for 17 years. Two packs a day. I tried everything to stop smoking cigarettes. The gum. The patch. This was the only thing that helped,” said Rodrigo Santos, 31, who co-owns the Bethesda Vapor Company with three high school friends.

Bethesda Vapor Company in Woodmont TriangleLess then a year ago, Santos was working as a manager in the restaurant industry. Looking to do something on his own, he posted a call to his Facebook friends asking if anyone wanted to co-own a business with him.

A high school friend, Jesse Flores, messaged him immediately and they linked up with two other friends — Reza Noroozi and John Shillfarth — from their days at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring to make the dream a reality.

“I wanted to do something different and wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own. This was kind of like an angel in the sky for me,” said Noroozi, who describes himself as an avid vaper.

Vape, defined as the inhalation or exhalation of vapor from an electronic cigarette, was the Oxford English Dictionary 2014 word of the year. Santos also pointed out that e-cig, vapor, and vape were the three most searched terms of 2014 on the internet.

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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

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