Rita Douglass studied philosophy and astronomy in college, but is known best for her crepes.
“The cerebral part of me enjoys the intellectual pursuits,” she said. But with her Moroccan parents’ cooking forever pervading her childhood home in Germany, 39-year-old Douglass, who now lives in Annandale, Va., found her destiny away from academics at an early age.
“I love serving people,” she said.
Douglass opened Rita’s Crepes, a kiosk in downtown Bethesda that serves its specialty hot off the pan, in July 2009. Ten sweet flavors dominate the menu, with toppings such as orange marmalade, maple butter, brown sugar and roasted almonds, plus one savory — the vegetable florentine crepe, filled with mozzarella, tomato, capers, Italian seasoning, spinach and olive oil.
When passersby don’t indulge, they at least stop and sniff.
“We have a following here,” Douglass said.
Douglass moved from Germany, where she worked in a crepe restaurant, to the U.S. in 1997. She began her foray into the food business by showcasing her crepes at local food festivals. Opening the kiosk brought her a little taste of home.
“It takes me back to Europe,” she said.
Besides Bethesda’s bustling kiosk, she also owns a catering business, All in Good Taste, based in Arlington, Va. All In Good Tastes caters breakfast, brunch, lunch, barbecue and cocktail menus. And of course, the ever-popular crepe.
At local events she caters, Douglass recognizes her crepe fans, some of whom come from as far as Virginia and Annapolis for their favorite food.
Mostly, though, her customers stream in after catching an indie flick at the next door, or dessert-seekers craving something in between pricey gelato and the down the street.
Douglass takes turns with her husband running the kiosk during the week. She thanks Bethesda’s wealthier demographic for her crepes’ popularity.
“In Bethesda, people have traveled. They’re worldly,” she said. “It takes people down memory lane.”
The kiosk is cozy, with “How sweet it is to be loved by you” curling in yellow script on one of the walls. Jars of strawberry jam sit next to a picnic basket of lemons. Bunches of bananas hang near the low ceiling; a bottle of Disaronno takes its place next to a bottle of chocolate syrup.
Prices range from $4.75 to $6.75. Douglass said the most popular flavor is cinnamon sugar, plain and simple, closely followed by the classic Nutella crepe. Then there are combinations like the Tahiti, with Nutella and coconut, and the Banana Split, with Nutella, roasted almonds, sliced bananas, and for an extra buck, a splash of amaretto.
Despite Douglass’ rationale for her business’ success, not all the clientele look particularly upper-crust.
Sam Aslan, a Rockville resident with a scruffy beard and baseball cap, has been patronizing Rita’s Crepes for about two years. He makes a stop whenever he’s in Bethesda, asking for just butter and sugar on his.
“I love crepes,” he said.
Despite the creperie’s success, Douglas isn't sure what the impact will be of a pending planned for the lot across the street, due to launch in January. Douglass said she has not yet heard what will happen to her lease when Lot 31 construction begins.
that the project could affect business.
But she is hopeful, in the meantime, that the loyal fan base will keep her business afloat.
Debi Smith, a Potomac native who attends the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, first came two years ago with friends after dinner. On a chilly Saturday afternoon, she brought friend Josh Simon, visiting from New Jersey, to try the Nutella, which she shared with her dinner-mates that first fateful night.
“It’s good,” Simon said.