Hardworking Small Business Owners Bring Variety to Chevy Chase Restaurant Scene
Restaurants and bakeshops work together to offer residents more options for eating out.
Step out of the Friendship Heights Metro station in Chevy Chase and you will find a variety of familiar restaurants such as The Cheesecake Factory, Maggiano’s Little Italy and P.F. Chang’s. But, beyond these national chain restaurants, there are also small and local establishments that bring variety and distinction to the Chevy Chase food scene.
These establishments include Frosting, A Cupcakery (1 Wisconsin Circle), which sells 6- and 8-inch cakes and Illy coffee and espresso along with the bakeshop's signature cupcakes. Husband-and-wife team Michelle Snow Bracken and Todd Bracken, along with Michelle Snow Bracken’s mother Ann Snow, opened the store in 2010.
Michelle Snow Bracken had the desire to turn her baking hobby into a business, but it was not until she met her future husband Todd Bracken that a business plan began to develop. While they had some experience working in the restaurant industry, their first year in business was “extremely tense, and a lot of work,” Todd Bracken said.
“During our first week we were working seven days a week, 150 hours, and probably got an hour or two of sleep every night,” he added.
Christofer Nardelli, owner of Blue 44 (5507 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC), experienced a similar “baptism by fire” the day his restaurant—which specializes in American cuisine with Italian and French influences—opened in April 2011.
"The first four months, our chef, sous chef, general manager and I all worked 16- to 18-hour days," Nardelli said.
This demand Nardelli credits in part to the desire for neighborhood residents to bring a “fresh, new look” to the local food scene. Nardelli searched for almost two years for the perfect location, and after studying the area’s demographics, found that it was an ideal location due to its walkability and reliable dinner crowd.
"I thought we would be busy, but the volume we experienced was on another level, which made it difficult to handle," Nardelli said.
The Chevy Chase Lake neighborhood lacks the easy access to Metro, but Manoli Canoli has been able to succeed because owner Stavros Manolakos made sure to tailor his restaurant to suit the need of this particular neighborhood: a casual, family-friendly restaurant.
Manoli Canoli occupies the space of the former Marcella La Bersagliera, an Italian restaurant founded in 1985. While Manolakos changed the restaurant in 2006 and added Greek dishes to the menu, he still incorporates elements from the space’s past—from the mozzarella made in-house to the photos on the wall of the former owners.
While residents may be eager to try something new, starting a food business in Chevy Chase is not without its risks. Nardelli’s tight-knit group—which includes his wife, who co-owns the restaurant and handles accounting, and Patrick Moore, general manager and one of Nardelli's best friends (and the one in charge when Nardelli is away)—are essential to the success of his restaurant.
"It's important in this business, as in any, to have people around you" whom you can trust, Nardelli said.
Every day brings a new experience for Manolakos—from managing employees to obtaining permits and considering menu options. Despite all of the hard work and long hours he has put into running both his restaurant and importing his family’s olive oil, he has no regrets.
Starting a business has been “one of the most rewarding decisions I’ve ever made,” Manolakos said.
Small businesses can learn more about these kinds of issues at the Small Business University seminars, part of a partnership between the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and the Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union.
Small businesses work together to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive in Chevy Chase. For example, Blue 44 has collaborated with the Avalon Movie Theatre to cross-promote their businesses.
As avid runners who run to “be able to eat the food we bake,” Todd Bracken said, collaboration with Georgetown Running Company was the perfect fit for Frosting.
And, Manoli Canoli sells its signature olive oil, imported from Manolakos’ family farm in Sparta, Greece, to the Chevy Chase Supermarket across the street from the restaurant. Collaborating with local businesses is mutually beneficial and helps maintain a variety of dining options in Chevy Chase.