Bread Furst: What to Know About Mark Furstenberg's New BakeryBy Olga Boikess | April 16, 2014 By Olga Boikess | April 16, 2014
Nationally respected chef and baker Mark Furstenberg brought artisanal bread (and much more) to the DC food scene at Marvelous Market’s first location in 1990. He expanded and sold the business (it recently closed) and went on to open, and later sell, the still successful Bread Line, a breakfast and sandwich venue near the White House and World Bank. In its heyday during the Clinton presidency, Bread Line was a something of a salon where White House staff wrote speeches at the sidewalk tables in the afternoon, while local and out-of-town chefs and food writers, artists and literary lights dropped by mid-morning to visit with Furstenberg.
As he readies Bread Furst, his new neighborhood bakery, cafe and take-home food venue for an end-of-the month opening, he talked with us about his plans and the legacy he hopes to leave.
Why he decided to do a “last hurrah”: Furstenberg, now 75, feels strongly that DC needs neighborhood food venues, and he has long wanted to open a retail bakery to “reclaim the ambition” that initially motivated Marvelous Market. He hopes it will serve as model to motivate other entrepreneurs.
Why he choose the Van Ness/Forrest Park neighborhood: This venture will be located on Connecticut Ave. NW a block or so above the Van Ness Metro stop, near the tony homes of Forest Hills and the area’s cosmopolitan apartment dwellers. There is good parking near the building's rear entrance. What's more, he has ties to the area. His sister, Carla Cohen, who died a few years ago, had established the bookstore Politics and Prose nearby, and his first Marvelous Market store was located a few doors away. Furstenberg says he has received terrific support from area residents (who keep stopping by to ask when he will open), including three women who held a successful fundraiser for the store.
Why the food will be adventurous (no plain Jane tuna sandwiches) but the baked goods will be homey American: Furstenberg has been blogging about opening the venture and has described the conundrum. He has long wanted to feature un-fancy American desserts. He sees old-fashioned, double-crusted pies and traditional cookies on the shelves. But it seems that his talented pastry team, headed by Jack Revelle (who left the White House’s kitchen to join him), wants to be creative - to reinterpret old ideas. (Bottom line - expect some from each genre.) On the other hand, he doesn’t want to offer “commonplace take-out foods.” He thinks there will be different customers for baked goods and savory foods, and he wants to surprise the latter with real flavors in soups, salads, spreads and sandwiches that they won’t find elsewhere. He favors Mediterranean and spicy Asian and African flavors, so he might add harissa and preserved lemon to a tuna salad. His staff worries that these vivid dishes won’t sell. He’ll says he’ll see how it goes.
Why the bread will be awesome: Furstenberg, who consults on bread for the likes of the Culinary Institute of America, hired Ben Arnold (formerly at Range and Society Fair) to head the day-to-day bread team. Their ambitious plan includes baguettes baked fresh all day, huge country loaves sold by weight (customers can buy a hunk), Furstenberg’s much-loved Palladin (ciabatta) bread, large brioches, a whole grain and an ancient grain bread (think teff and amaranth) that will vary each day along with sandwich rolls, flatbreads, croissants and chewy bagels for breakfast. Not to mention fresh donuts. (We plan on making daily bread stops).
Why he thinks his customers will pay for quality: Furstenberg isn’t worried that his customers won’t pay what it costs for him to use premium, organic eggs or other superior ingredients. He explains that his Madcap Coffee Co. brews will not cost more than competitors like Starbucks down the street, and the same will be true of the rest of the menu. He sums up, “I’ve spend my food career doing what I thought was good and right.”
4434 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-765-1200; opening end of April