Bethesda's Brown Bag To Take Over Glen Echo Park Cafe
New food vendor to debut after push to transfer authority for food service at Glen Echo Park from NPS to the county.
Visitors to Glen Echo Park will soon have a new dining option after a push to shift control for food vending there from the National Park Service to Montgomery County.
The Brown Bag, which opened in Bethesda in 2002 and has quickly expanded throughout the Washington, D.C. region as demand grew for its fast-casual, healthy and gourmet food options, will begin operating the park’s Ballroom Café April 2.
The previous concessions operator at Glen Echo contracted with the park service to run food operations at all National Park Service sites in the national capital area, according to Katey Boerner, Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture executive director.
“We were just a small thing in this huge contract,” Boerner said. “We didn’t have any ability to control the hours or food. This is something more particular to the park, something that we have a little more control over.”
Legislators and local officials supported the transfer of authority for food service at Glen Echo from NPS to the county in order to provide more flexibility, Boerner said. “It was a decision that had to get made at administrative level, and input from legislators and county officials helped to make that happen,” Boerner said.
That the vendor is local should appeal to park visitors, Boerner said.
With a tagline of “honest food,” The Brown Bag offers options like made-to-order sandwiches, soups and gourmet salads, and focuses on fresh ingredients, according to Brown Bag founder Erich Fuldner.
“We’re still going to have stuff for the kids – ice cream, popcorn, all that’s on the menu,” said Fuldner, who opened Bethesda Avenue’s Parkers in 1992 and operated it for 18 years before selling it in 2010 to focus on the Brown Bag. “But we’ll have salads and sandwiches and more items for the adults that are here at night, like hummus and different dips and cheese plates.”
The chain boasts five locations in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia, including the Bethesda location. Fuldner attributes its popularity to an increasing focus on healthy, local eating.
“Our salads are a different – they’re more gourmet. We have items like edamame and goat cheese, which you don’t find in regular sandwich shop,” Fuldner said. “Our dressing is made from scratch – with our cilantro-lime dressing, we use fresh-squeezed lime. People wonder why it tastes so good – we just use the real product.”
The new food vendor will also mean more consistent hours for the café, Boerner said. It’s set to operate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays and from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays to cater to the park’s vibrant dance and art communities.
“With our old vendor, they were open kind of odd hours, so people never knew when they would be open,” Boerner said.
The Brown Bag will also offer event catering, Boerner said. She hopes the re-vamped café will make the park a draw as a lunch option for the surrounding community, along with park visitors.
“It’s a good menu for both the dancer types and the students who come here every week, and also the families,” Boerner said.