Two cousins moved around a Bloomingdale kitchen on a Sunday morning, icing red velvet cupcakes, filling gooey miniature pies, and washing dishes as inviting smells wafted from the oven.
Sara Fatell and Jamilyah Smith-Kanze were not preparing a family feast, but assembling an array of sweet treats for Grassroots Gourmet, their bakery and catering company, in Ms. Fatell’s home kitchen.
Now, Grassroots Gourmet has opened a shop at 104 Rhode Island Avenue NW. The bakery sells fresh-baked items every day. In the morning, the bakery case is filled with muffins, scones, banana bread and other breakfast treats. By afternoon, there are cakes, cupcakes, mini pies, cookies and brownies to choose from. Full size cakes and pies are made to order.
Tea and fresh ground coffee from a local roaster are available all day long.
“Come on in. We’ll have something good for you to get,” said Ms. Fatell. She said the variety of baked goods changes daily. “Stay tuned to our website and our winter holiday menu,” she added.
What Ms. Fatell started as an experiment with a friend in 2009 has become a thriving business, each month handling orders ranging from two dozen to 6,000 cupcakes for weddings, parties, and other local gatherings. With a storefront bakery, customers can now walk in and buy freshly baked goods by the piece.
Menu items include triple chocolate chip cookies, “Sweet Elvis” cupcakes (banana cake topped with peanut butter frosting and honey), chocolate bourbon pecan pie and other favorites. The selection is mostly recipes passed down by Ms. Fatell’s grandmother, but she enjoys branching out to satisfy clients’ requests.
When a couple requested cherry pie at their wedding, she recalled spending three days looking for cherries in the middle of October, ultimately deciding to import cherries frozen at the peak of their summer season from a family farm in Michigan. “That’s in line with what we’re trying to do,” Ms. Fatell said. “If I’m not proud of it, I don’t want to serve it.”
Ms. Fatell said the new storefront on Rhode Island Avenue would greatly benefit the bakery. “What we love about Ward 5 is the foot traffic here,” Ms. Fatell said. “There are dogs and babies and yoga mats walking by all the time.”
Ms. Fatell said she initially began baking to unwind from her political organizing work. While she now bakes full-time, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. most weekdays, she remains attached to the calming power of food. She values “The idea of eating together and sharing together,” she said. “Slow down and enjoy that moment.”
Ms. Fatell partnered with fellow baker and political organizer Causten Wollerman to start Grassroots Gourmet in Fall 2009, when they sent their first menu of baked items, attached to cookie packages, to their 25 favorite non-profit organizations. The 12 orders that followed, coupled with the success of a winter menu, made the business profitable after only a few months, Ms. Fatell said.
Despite the promising start, the operation dwindled the following year as Ms. Fatell worked on political campaigns and Mr. Wollerman took a job in New York. In Fall 2010, Ms. Smith-Kanze moved from New York to D.C. and teamed up with her cousin to revive Grassroots Gourmet, bringing her financial expertise – and willingness to help in the kitchen – to the company.
As a family business, the two owners are constantly using their networks of friends and relatives to help out. Ms. Fatell said she hopes to maintain this identity as the business grows. “If you look at any family gathering, it’s probably focused on the meal,” Ms. Fatell said. “Food brings up really good memories.”
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Grassroots Gourmet, 104 RI Ave NW
Tu-F 8am-7pm, Sat 9am-3pm,
Sun 10am-2pm, (202) 629-2040