New cafe a labor of love

Couple: Wanting to spend more time with one another, a husband and wife join efforts to open a place in Ellicott City.

Small business

January 14, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

For the owners of Sarah and Desmond's Cafe and Bakery in Ellicott City, business is a labor of love.

Chefs Desmond Vogler and Sarah Tanenbaum - his specialty is breads, hers is pastries - opened the Main Street shop before Christmas, just months after terrorist attacks helped the couple realize they should work together.

"We figured this was the only way we could really make it work if we wanted to be together," Tanenbaum said.

At the time a free-lance pastry chef, Tanenbaum was helping the White House staff prepare for a state dinner Sept. 11. She was among those evacuated from the White House that day. Her husband was in Baltimore with their son.

"I had never really thought of the White House as being vulnerable up until that point," she said. "It was terrifying being there. That changed things for both of us. We realized [that] where we needed to be was together."

So they acted on plans they had toyed with months before: renting kitchen space and selling pastries and cakes wholesale to cafes and bakeries.

When they asked a friend, Devon Potler, about renting part of his kitchen at Ellicott City's Jahva House, he persuaded them to take the whole shop. He wanted a smaller space.

Two months and a major renovation later, Sarah and Desmond's was open, its cases brimming with an assortment of breads and its menu offering vegetarian lunches, coffees, teas and hot chocolate.

The cafe opened in a community well-stocked with bakeries. Fisher's Bakery has been in its space across the street from the new shop for about 50 years, and another large bakery is just down Main Street.

But according to John Fisher, whose store specializes in wedding cakes, there is room for more.

"There's thousands and thousands of people around us," he said. "What they [the new owners] do and what we do is different. We don't go after the same client."

Fisher said he offers lunches with fresh-baked breads, but they are not strictly vegetarian.

"I don't mind competition at all. They're not the first bakery to compete with us," he said. "They're bringing more people into the town. The more successful the stores here, the more successful the town. I wish them well."

After a month in business, things are going well, Tanenbaum said. Many Jahva House regulars are visiting the bakery for its vegetarian lunch menu.

"We did lunch because that's what people were interested in getting from here," Tanenbaum said. "The [previous] business had a following, especially for lunch."

Tanenbaum said the cafe will be working on broadening its customer base. The third floor of the shop has been transformed into a children's area with toys, room to play and sofa seating.

Tanenbaum said she also would like to hold book clubs for women and children, and cake-decorating parties for kids. The food also will help differentiate the shop from the other bakeries, she said.

Tanenbaum has not produced any of her White House-quality pastries for display cases. But Vogler, lead bread mixer at the Fresh Fields store in Mount Washington for nearly five years, has a healthy variety of loaves for sale - sourdough rye, honey whole grain, and cheese.

"A lot of what we will have is going to be more European, fancier, a little more gourmet," Tanenbaum said. "Everybody [Ellicott City bakeries] does a little something a little bit different. I think there's room for everybody."

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