Published January 3, 2022
Q. Hello Ki (flanked in photo by employees Bill Townsend and Ben Page), let's just start off with how you got involved with this type of retail business?
A. It goes back to Fall of 2012, when I found out the Magruder's grocery chain was on the market. I had prior experience in the grocery business and was looking to purchase a business that could provide for my family. Of course, looking back, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It's been challenging but truly rewarding experience.
Q. What were some reasons that you found Magruder's to be an exciting opportunity for you?
A. I fell in love with Magruder's for the same reasons our loyal patrons shop here every day. The deli, the produce and the alcoholic beverage offering is a unique business model. I loved how the store evolved over the years from a traditional grocery to a more specialized store that serves to meet the needs of the community.
Q. Magruder's has a rich history in the DC area. Can you give us a few details?
A. Certainly. The store traces its roots to 1875 when John H. Magruder purchased the store in downtown DC near the White House (see Magruder's Washington Times Ad from 1911). He eventually also opened a Georgetown location. Magruder's has been serving Washingtonians and foreign dignitaries with imported and other fine goods since that time. Magruder's as an independently owned grocery store chain grew in number during the previous ownership and had multiple locations in the DC, MD and VA area. In 2013 that era ended when the previous ownership sold me the Conn. Ave. store and shuttered other locations. I have since taken the store in a more gourmet and fine wine direction, back to its original roots, if you will. Including the original family, I am now the third Magruder's owner.
Q. As you mentioned, Magruder's is unique in that besides alcohol sales you have a large deli and prepared food counter and a robust produce operation among other products. How would you choose to describe your store to someone not familiar with you?
A. It's a one-stop shop for patrons looking for fine wine, prepared food and fresh produce. We aim to excel in selection, price and service.
Q. What are some specific product areas Magruder's excels in?
A. Magruder's is a full-service alcoholic beverage destination. If your cocktail recipe is calling for some obscure ingredient, you are sure to find it at Magruder's. I can of course go on and on about us having the best selection of whiskies in the city including over a dozen of our own single barrel offerings. We are always working with our suppliers to bring new and interesting products to our customers.
Q. About 18 months ago you initiated a new service called Friday Meal Deal for Two. What is it and why did you start it and are there other new features or products that you have recently implemented or begun to showcase?
A. The meal deal program launched during the pandemic to offer our customers an easy dinner solution for a great price. We originally partnered it with our sister Kensington wine-bar as the program enabled us to retain more staff on payroll during the height of the pandemic when indoor dining was unavailable. We have since moved the production entirely to our deli. We are looking to roll out more gourmet and dinner options in the coming months. We also plan to relaunch our growler beer program. Our new beer manager is excited and looking forward to bringing in unique and hard to find beers for folks to take home and enjoy fresh.
Q. How do you like being in and interacting with the Chevy Chase community?
A. I remember my first day at the store when an elderly woman approached me to offer me congratulation on purchasing the store. She had chosen to retire back in the area where she grew up and mentioned that her father worked at the store long ago. Magruder's has been a fixture in the neighborhood for decades and I feel privileged and grateful that the community has been so welcoming to me and my family. There are of course challenging customer service moments as in any retail, but the overwhelming majority of our patrons appreciate our earnest effort to make their visit a pleasant one. Our loyal patrons see that our staff care about each other and about our customers. It's more than just a job for many of us, our customers are also our friends.
Q. Lastly, what can you tell us about yourself that you think people would find interesting?
A. Ha! can't think of a thing. I'm just your average corner grocer, willing to service you to his best ability with a smile.
Published February 1, 2022
Q. Hello Simmie and Steven, what led you into the business of toys, games, and books?
A. Children are a blank canvas. If you give them great tools, there is no limit to what they will achieve. With that in mind, Steven founded Child’s Play in 1986 to create a community-centered shop offering creative and thought-provoking toys & books for kids.
Q. I read where you play each game and read each book that you sell, so what have you noticed most about how things have changed over the 30 years you have been in the business?
A. Games have definitely become more varied and inventive, with much more sophisticated play that makes them enjoyable for the whole family. Board games have become “cool” for older kids & adults. In books, graphic novels and books for young adults have flourished over the past few years. And we are delighted to see much more diversity in the stories and characters aimed at kids.
Q. Are there still toys and games around now that existed when you were a kid, or when your children were kids? If so, what are a few?
A. So many! We both grew up with Legos, and Playmobil is a longstanding favorite. Magna-Tiles came out when our kids were small, and we were one of the very first stores in the country to carry them.
Q. Child's Play has been passed down from one generation to the next in some families, what does that mean to you?
A. It’s the best feeling in the world. We’ve been fortunate to get to know so many wonderful families over the years. It’s really special to see someone we watched grow up, come into the shop with their own little ones. We hope it is as magical now as it was when they were young.
Q. Where do you see the future of toys and games heading?
A. Of course, technology is changing every aspect of our lives, but parents recognize that kids still need hands-on play. A good toy encourages children to direct their own play, to engage their imagination, to entertain themselves rather than waiting to be entertained.
Q. Child's Play attracts customers from all over DC and nearby areas but what makes Chevy Chase unique and how do you interact with the community?
A. We opened our store in Chevy Chase in 1991 and loved the neighborhood so much that we bought a home here two years later. We appreciate being part of a community that is so informed and engaged in the important issues of the day. We will never forget the kids that came to the shop on Inauguration Day a few years ago to do a public reading of “March,” a graphic novel based on the life of Rep. John Lewis. They were amazing and inspiring. We love how supportive this community is of its local schools. We have been proud to help sponsor hundreds of events, drives, and book fairs on behalf of area schools over the past 30 years.
Q. What are some things about you personally that people would be surprised to know?
A. Before entering the toy business, Simmie worked in the non-profit sector doing advocacy and development. Now, she uses those skills to support Hands In Outreach (HIO), a charity near and dear to her heart, that is breaking the cycle of poverty for impoverished girls in Nepal. Stop by the shop any time and she will be happy to tell you about HIO’s life changing work.
Published March 1, 2022
Q. You took over ownership of Salon Familia in 2019, how did that happen?
A. We’ve both worked at Salon Familia for over two decades since it first opened in 1999. In 2019, the previous owners retired and moved with plans to either sell or close the business. We love Salon Familia and this community, so we took over ownership of the salon. The first thing we decided to do was renovate the entire space and update all the equipment. We feel the space has transformed and are so happy with it – we hope our customers are too.
Q. If someone knew nothing about Salon Familia, how would you best describe it?
A. Salon Familia is a neighborhood family salon, that’s where our name came from. We cater to all ages. Our expansive hair services include first haircuts, expert hair coloring, event styling, and more. We also offer a full range of nail and waxing services. We often see children coming in for their very first haircut, which is a big step for both the child and parents. Plus, kids always love the ribbon and lollipop reward at the end of their visits. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know many wonderful neighborhood families and have given haircuts to kids from childhood to college-age. We pride ourselves on the fact that many young adults return to the salon when they’re visiting the area.
Q. During the first year of Covid you provided outside haircuts to promote safety. How did the community react?
A. It goes without saying the first year of the pandemic introduced incredible hardship and uncertainty for both our business and our customers. After shuttering for months, we heard from many clients who said they’d be interested in outdoor haircuts and hair color. We were heartened by this outreach, and carefully implemented an outdoor appointment station in front of the salon to reduce risk for customers and employees. Community reaction was positive, and we gave quite a few outdoor haircuts in 2020 and 2021.
Q. Are most of your customers from the Chevy Chase Area or do you find that they came from all over the area?
A. Many of our clients are from the immediate Chevy Chase area but we see customers from all over the DMV.
Q. What makes Chevy Chase unique and what do you enjoy doing to interact with the community? A. We’re a proud member of the Chevy Chase community. We absolutely love this neighborhood, the people, and the other small businesses. As new business owners, we’ve had a steep learning curve these past couple of years, especially with the complications from the pandemic. Through it all, the neighborhood has been unrelentingly positive and supportive. The new Chevy Chase Main Street program has provided us with amazing resources to improve the business and get the word out about our salon. We love that the neighborhood is made up of other small businesses with passionate owners who are always willing to help each other.
Q. Are there any new services or events planned in the near future?
A. We’d like to update the lighting and equipment in our waxing room to optimize comfort and improve the overall experience for those clients. Q. What is something about you that people would be surprised to learn?
A. We are both Vietnamese immigrants who moved here in the ‘80s. On the weekends, we’re both part of a hiking club and enjoy exploring new trails in the DMV area. Last year, we took a trip together with our spouses to see the Wave in Arizona.
Published April 1, 2022
Q. Hi June, is there anything unique in your background that pushed you towards the retail business?
A. If I think back, I don’t see any specific influence towards retail, as I was practically raised sitting by my mother in a state legislature in Brazil where she worked. So, I didn’t really have much direct exposure to retail, but I was exposed to diplomacy and public relations. I learned a lot at an early age in terms of working with the public and understanding the importance of being diplomatic. Retail requires attention to others, to understand differences, and to be creative and friendly.
Q. Tell us about June B. Sweet and the newly branded Chevy Chase Stationery, and how they are connected.
A. I opened June B Sweet (JBS) in 2008, intending to create a unique high end neighborhood tea place for people to go, where they could see and try the most beautiful sweets that they could ever have. I started JBS first as wholesale, with my products being sold at Whole Foods (chocolate jars with a bamboo spoon). One day looking for special stationery to serve a buffet of sweets for a wedding, I met Noreen Lucey of Write For You. Noreen was the main owner of Write For You, since 2000. She was battling cancer and looking for someone to continue her business. After a meeting exchanging ideas and dreams, she shared with me that she thought I was the right person to continue her stationery business. The new brand, Chevy Chase Stationery, was much needed for us to survive in new generation marketing, where to succeed in business you must be more visual. Write For You was a sweet business name, with a fun play of words, but the word “stationery” was needed to better express the store’s main product. The association of June B Sweet and Chevy Chase Stationery is a lovely coincidence. For me it made complete sense to join both businesses, since I was raised to appreciate things like exquisite boxes, satin ribbons, fine papers, drawings, hand calligraphy, proper etiquette, and most of all a thank you note, a legacy that I owe to my mother and grandmother for their own notes expressed on fine paper.
Q. What do you think makes Chevy Chase unique and what do you enjoy doing to interact with the community?
A. Chevy Chase is a traditional neighborhood. Our neighbors are polite; they enjoy treating everyone well and retain a certain formality. Most of our neighbors appreciate the value of a hand-written thank you note and look forward to receiving a traditional written invitation. Another aspect of Chevy Chase that I love is that it is a true residential neighborhood, with people of all ages. We’re as likely to have a small child walk in with a parent to taste a sweet treat as we are for that same child’s grandparent to shop for a special greeting card. It is also increasingly diverse and with a lot of international residents. As a Brazilian, I feel very comfortable with the traditional side of Chevy Chase. I was also raised in a traditional way and area, though with a much different culture (and weather). I very much enjoy sharing with our clients a bit of my Brazilian culture, stories about our vendors, the uniqueness of our products, and most of all the daily routine of our lives.
Q. I know that June B Sweet has some strong Brazilian and Portuguese influences, can you give us some examples of how that shows itself?
A. As Americans love to indulge from time to time as adults in cupcakes and other sweets from their childhoods, Brazilians love to indulge in “brigadeiros”, which are the delicious bite-sized bomboms that we sell at the store. The creation of June B Sweet confectionery went beyond just the simple and traditional brigadeiro. We took the traditional bite-sized sweet and made it “gourmet”, just like you’ve seen with cupcakes. How many different ingredients and how much beauty and creativity can we add, to allow our clients to “eat with their eyes”. You can also see the Portuguese influence in the design on our boxes and bags, where I was inspired by the traditional Portuguese tiles that are prominent in the Brazilian city of Petropolis, where I went to school.
Q. You recently completed a renovation. Are there any plans to add new wrinkles to offerings or service?
A. A generous grant from DC Great Streets was a miracle that came at the right time. For us it was a big award, which we used to change the interior aspects of the store; to add a more accessible door for seniors; to expand the space inside the store for strollers, walkers and other clients; to add the signage and illumination; and most of all to upgrade the facade and overall appearance. As a new representative of Mariage Frères tea, I hope soon to be serving tea with our sweets and add another flavor into our community and a complement for June B Sweet confectionery.
Q. What are some things about you that people would be surprised to learn?
A. Many of our customers have learned by now that I am Brazilian, a former Brazilian lawyer, married to an American lawyer, a mother of three children and that I live near the store, in Chevy Chase Village. I think some would be surprised to learn that in a “previous life” I had an amazing diplomatic experience at the side of a Brazilian President and Ambassador. Between events at the White House, and meetings and dinners at many embassies, such as in Portugal, the UK, Spain, Belgium, France, and Mexico, and at the first Summit of the Americas in 1994, and interacting with a lot of colorful world leaders, I had unique life experiences that molded the work I do today and helps me relate to the lives of our wonderful customers who walk into June B Sweet Confectionery and Chevy Chase Stationery.
Published May 2, 2022
Q. Hi Pete, Thanks for agreeing to chat today here at the Parthenon. So, where in Greece are you from and when did you first come to DC?
A. I come from Zakynthos, the third largest of the Ionian Islands. A beautiful island of about 45,000 people south of Corfu. I came to the DC area in 1978 and started to work in some restaurants and for Marriott for 11 years. In 1989 the Swiss cafe which was located here went into bankruptcy and we bought it 33 years ago and the rest is history.
Q. How often do you go back to Greece?
A. Normally I go every year. My mom is 95 now and I like to go and see her. Unfortunately, the last 2 years with Covid I haven't had a chance to go. But hopefully I am going to get to go this year. She still lives on the same island where I am from, and she lives alone but my sister is close by.
Q. What makes Greek food so good?
A. First off, we use lots of natural ingredients, and we bring in a lot of imported things from Greece. Lots of extra virgin oil, feta cheese, pasta, everything comes from Greece. we use lots of local vegetables, and all our meat products are from here. All of our dried food stuff comes from overseas.
Q. What are the favorite dishes that you prepare?
A. The lamb dishes are very popular here. The baked lamb, and the Branzino is really good, very tasty and of course it too comes from Greece. Here you can have a really good meal with nothing but different appetizers. We have over 35 different appetizers. So, if somebody doesn't want to have a big meal, they can share some appetizers and it is plenty of food. I give enough food to my customers to keep them happy. It's my best advertisement. Nobody leaves hungry from here. And our wines are very very good many of them from Greece especially the wines from Santorini are good because of the volcanic soil.
Q. I often see you tending to your many planters. Is that important to you?
A. It's very important to me. People like it. It gives things a good atmosphere, like a garden. I like to keep the flowers in season, in bloom, and I get lots of compliments. People seem to love it.
Q. Anything new to report on the Chevy Chase Lounge?
A. The lounge is opening again now. I have hired some bartenders and we will try to get things back to the way they were in the old days.
Q. What is your favorite thing about being in Chevy Chase?
A. I love the community. The people have been really nice to me especially the past two years because of Covid. So many people ordered food to go. Without them I wouldn't be here now. The only way we could survive was through take-out food. The support for me and especially after the terrible accident about 2 months ago the community was great. I'd love to thank the community for all the support after the tragedy that we had here. I got a thousand phone calls from all over the world: Canada, Brazil, South Africa, France, Germany, Greece. I had to bring my daughter in just to answer the phone. All my customers should know how much I appreciate them.
Q. What is something people do not know about you?
A. Hmm, I'm just a normal guy. I like to travel; I love going down to Miami.
Published June 1, 2022
Q. So, tell us a bit about yourself Jeff, why and how did you end up as a health practitioner?
A. I've been in this neighborhood since 1980 and put myself through college working as a massage therapist, graduating from George Washington University in 1982 with a degree in Psychology. After college, I studied with Aaron Mattes for more than 20 years, am a national specialist in the Mattes Method of Active Isolated Stretching (AIS). I continued working as a massage therapist and, with further training, joined the national sports massage team. I helped write the city legislation to establish massage therapy as an allied health profession. For many years, I participated on the National Capital Velo Club. the DC Parks and Recreation swim team and competed in triathlons. Searching for further training in musculoskeletal medicine, I went to medical school and graduated as a physician in 2000. I completed my osteopathic internship at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and physical medicine and rehabilitation residency at Temple University in Philadelphia. When I finished my residency, I set up a practice in Chevy Chase close to home, where many of my previous clients still lived.
Q. How long has QuistMD been open in Chevy Chase?
A. I began working in Chevy Chase in 2005 and opened my clinic above Starbuck's in 2007. I moved to 5630 Connecticut Ave. in September 2021.
Q. What services do you provide that would be of special interest to neighbors?
A. Besides fixing all your general aches and pains from musculoskeletal injuries, we provide massage therapy, osteopathic manipulations, ergonomic consults, sports performance, surgical pre- and rehabilitation including joint replacements. We have a special focus in treatment for hypermobility, TMJ dysfunction, and flexibility training. I conduct educational workshops and seminars on flexibility, strength, and neuromuscular re-education.
Q. Last year you moved from above Starbucks to your current location, 2 blocks away, in the M&T building. Why?
A. I moved into a larger space with a big gym and elevator to better accommodate my patients and allow for growth of the clinic.
Q. What makes Chevy Chase unique and what do you enjoy doing to interact with the community?
A. Chevy Chase is central to everything, just a hop, skip and a jump to downtown, Bethesda, or Rock Creek Park. I like the close network of friends and neighbors, who are mostly long-time residents, that makes the neighborhood special. I enjoy the robust biking community in this area and promote biking in various venues, like Bike-to-Work Day or the Lafayette Elementary School Bike Swap (which I helped coordinate for many years). Bikes are a great form of enjoyment and exercise. As my friend Simon, owner of Great Bike Tours, says, "They're the mobile device that charges you."
Q. I know that you had a special relationship with Robert (Bob) Truax who passed away in 2009. Among other things Bob was a noted Chevy Chase historian. What can you tell us about his historical collection and where is it now?
A. Bob was a close family friend. His collections were vast, but mostly focused on Washingtoniana and transportation memorabilia. His transportation collections were given to George Mason University for their large transportation library. Other smaller collections were gifted to the National Capital Trolley Museum and the Baltimore Historical Society. His most notable collection was of postal cancellations from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when mail traveled by trains in rail-cars known as Railroad Post Offices (RPOs).
Q. What is something about you that people would be surprised to learn?
A. Well, if I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise. I’m in my 53rd year as a musculoskeletal therapist having started with my family at about 10 years old. I began my long career in musculoskeletal medicine at home. As a good, Swedish family, my parents taught all the children to massage various parts of the body, such as head, hands, feet, and shoulders. And soon enough, we figured out they taught us so we could work on them. The unwritten Haggquist rule was: if you’re watching TV, you’re working on somebody (preferably the parents).
Published August 1, 2022
Q. Tell us about yourself and how you ended up in the organic wine business?
A. My name is Eveline, I came over from France in 1999 with the intention to finish my education which I did. I graduated from Strayer University with a BA and from UMUC with an MBA back in 2009 with a concentration in Management. My first job in the US was as a cashier and I worked my way up to a branch manager after a few years. Then I decided to change careers 8 years ago to work in the IT field. I’ve been in project management for over 8 years now. As a person who lived in France, I always had challenges finding good wines after I moved to the USA and when the opportunity of being part of this great adventure happened, I didn’t hesitate. I really love a good wine and the idea of going into that business a few years ago, was somewhat natural. My partner has been in the business for about 10 years so his experience in the domain helped a lot in the implementation of Wine and Organic.
Q. If someone knew nothing about Wine & Organic, how would you describe it?
A. Over the past several years, we’ve recognized that consumer tastes change from heavily processed foods to more organic counterparts. This shift in food preferences has extended to the wine industry. The main reason organic wine is considered healthier is that it is manufactured from grapes that were specifically farmed without the utilization of artificial or synthetic chemicals, like herbicides and pesticides. Farmers employ numerous natural ways to protect the vineyards from insects and weeds. Organic wine does not contain added sugars which is the best option for people who have uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Wine and organic is all about bringing quality and fresh wine to the community at a very competitive price. We are part of “Alliance des recoltants” in Europe and as such, our wine is sustainably farmed and organic. Our wine comes directly from our farmers, thus removing all go-betweens (importer, distributor) in the process. That give us a huge price advantage over our competitors.
Q. I understand you have a membership option; can you explain what it is?
A. Memberships are $15 per month, and members enjoy discounts on products and a discounted rate on wine tastings and wine classes. We also will host private wine tasting events. Individuals and groups can rent out our exclusive wine tasting room for special events such as wedding showers, birthday parties, business networking events, corporate holiday parties, political fundraisers, sip and paints, etc.
Q. Why did you choose Chevy Chase as a location to open your business?
A. Our best patrons for our success will be mature and educated customers who are looking for quality wine. They should be open to learning about the wine process and ingredients. They should also be curious about the health benefits of drinking organic wine. For us, the community of Chevy Chase and nearby areas meet those requirements.
Q. I know you have some unique features to tell us about such as a special tasting room, can you give us some details?
A. The wine tasting room will provide wine tastings ($30/member and $40/nonmember), wine classes ($50/member and $60/nonmember), and events that I previously mentioned. A sommelier will give wine classes during the evenings and on weekends. We will also soon have pastries, croissants, baguettes, and cheese to offer our customers.
Q. Are there any events that you have planned or are thinking about that will be community oriented?
A. The tasting room is somewhat reserved to the community for whatever events they like. Also, we look forward to being part of community events in Chevy Chase and surrounding areas.
Q. What are some things about you that people would be surprised to learn?
A. Well, I am an immigrant from Cameroon who moved here over 20 years ago. I have 2 wonderful boys, who are 12 and 8 years old, and I am very proud of them.
Published September 1, 2022
Q. Hi Emma and Ben, so, tell us about yourselves and why you decided to open a bike business in Chevy Chase?
A. In 2020, I volunteered Ben’s services to anyone in need of bicycle maintenance or repairs. Seeing our neighbors take to the streets on two wheels, had been an unexpected silver lining to the pandemic; it was exciting to see so many people embracing the simple joy of riding bicycles. That single post on the Chevy Chase Listserv led to a steady stream of repair jobs and kind of reignited Ben’s enthusiasm for the work of turning a wrench. During that strange period of imposed isolation - bicycles somehow made us feel more connected. Tracking down scarce parts became a family affair and led to an unexpected opportunity to evaluate the local retail landscape. We saw and felt a need for an inclusive bicycle shop that celebrated the fun and beauty inherent in riding bicycles.
Q. Happy Go is more than simply a store selling bicycles, what other products do you feature?
A. One of our favorite tasks is finding unique products and brands from around the world. We have reflective garb and waterproof bags for children and adults from an incredible Belgian company; reflective spokes and stickers from a small French brand; and numerous domestic brands not currently represented in the DC market. We wanted to color outside the boundaries of usual bicycle shop offerings with design and photography books and small gift items like pencil cases, keychains, and other playful practical accessories. As an avid skateboarder back in the day, Ben's affinity for it rubbed off on our 9-year-old son who is eager to share this passion and encourage more people to get on boards at “Charlie’s Skate Counter.” Happy Go is definitely a family affair.
Q. Will you be providing any services, training or workshops that make you unique?
A. This winter, we’ll host some basic bicycle maintenance/repair courses. We’ve already gotten a lot of requests for group rides and are looking forward to being able to facilitate that experience a little further down the road. In the meantime, we’re focusing on connecting with individuals and finding solutions that have stymied riders. We empathize with riders just getting back on the bike after injury. I (Emma) had cancer as an adolescent and has ongoing physical limitations as a result. After getting the okay to return to riding a bike last summer, Ben made minor adjustments and alterations to help ease me back onto two wheels. While it’s true that we never really forget how to ride - we don’t underestimate how intimidating it can be to restart.
Q. I know you live in Chevy Chase so this endeavor must also give you a sense of community, what is your vision for what you are trying to create with Happy Go?
A. Chevy Chase is such a uniquely warm and welcoming community, we hope Happy Go offers a similarly inviting environment. We want to create an atmosphere devoid of the pretension commonly associated with bike shops and to help facilitate a more ubiquitous cycling culture within and beyond our neighborhood by equipping people with the tools and resources they need. The innate care and consideration of a small business is amplified when you endeavor to build it amongst your neighbors and friends; we hope to distinguish ourselves as a trusted resource for years to come.
Q. Do you see yourselves as being involved in community events and if so
what are you considering?
A. We’re looking forward to participating in Chevy Chase Day this September 17th and will provide bikes for auctioning and offer discounts on select merchandise. We also plan to take part in Chevy Chase First Fridays and local school events throughout the year. We’ll act as a bicycle/skateboard depository for Gearing Up and D.C. Wheels; two non-profit organizations doing amazing work with underprivileged youth.
Q. Since biking is such an important part of your lives, what are some of your favorite trails in the DC area?
A. Bicycles offer a distinct vantage point and freedom that we love incorporating into our daily lives; zig zagging through alleys with the wind on your back can make the most mundane task into an adventure. If you haven’t had the opportunity to explore this neck of the woods on two wheels - we would suggest giving it a go - we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the new things, you can see that would
easily be missed in a car.
Q. Finally, what is something you could tell us about yourself that people would be surprised to learn?
A. When I met Ben, he was working for a small firm in NY specializing in the preservation of art, artifacts, and historic structures; climbing around the dioramas at the Natural History Museum, upgrading the effectiveness of John Russel Pope designed display cases at the Frick, and running to Hangar 17 at JFK airport to care for the remnants and artifacts from 9/11. After telling a story about testing the environment for a paper/wax sculpture installation at a client's apartment in the Dakota - my grandmother quickly responded, “That’s lovely, Benjamin, but what are your plans for the future?” He replied “I’ve always wanted to own my own bike shop.”
Published October 1, 2022
Q. Hi Melina, what in your background put you on the path to open Artsy Beast?
A. I came to the United States as a refugee from Bosnia. My family and I have been through the pain and trauma of war and persecution firsthand. We were the lucky ones we made it out alive, however with many invisible scars. Seeking solace, and a way to process my experiences, I turned to art, losing myself in oil paintings and charcoal sketches. Painting became my mental and physical escape, a place where I could find flow and get away from it all. It’s the one true passion that I’ve had throughout my life and has carried me through many hardships. Long before I knew what Art Therapy was, I had been leaning into art as a way of healing for decades. I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a double major in International Politics and in Psychology. However, I spent the last fifteen years building a successful career in finance. The COVID-19 pandemic put an abrupt stop to everything. I left work in November of 2020 to care for our two young children and two sets of elderly parents. It was here, that I reflected deeply on my past and looked forward to my future, journaling about life and purpose, and coming to a decision to open Artsy Beast, a ceramics and arts studio. I decided to take my passion for art along with my business knowledge and turn it into my livelihood, aiming to show others how powerful art can be.
Q. Briefly, what will be happening at Artsy Beast and what equipment will you have available for people to use?
A. We offer Ceramics and Studio Arts classes for adults and kids. We hope to bring our community together with some fun filled art sessions. I designed the studio to be bright and welcoming, featuring oversized Pottery Barn dining tables and Shimpo VL Whisper Potter's wheels. Throughout the space there are lots of plants bringing nature in and making the space feel earthy. We offer an ergonomic relief to clay practice by providing recessed glaze bucket tables and a height adjustable wedging table.
Q. What do you hope to bring to the community through this undertaking?
A. An oasis. In our busy lives We tend to bypass art, we look at it as an elective in schools, when in reality it is absolutely essential to us. Whenever we are experiencing big human emotions, mourning a loss, or rejoicing in a wedding, we turn towards art such as poetry and music. We seek art that resonates with the frequency of our emotions. Art is therapeutic and healing. If the last three Covid years have taught us anything it is to take good care of our health, physical and mental. I hope Artsy Beast is a place where people take refuge from everyday struggles of life, relax, and unwind, and recalibrate to a healthier version of themselves.
Q. I see from your website that you have several instructors. Can you say a few words about them?
A. One of the best things about Artsy Beast is our instructors! They are all amazing in their individual craft, but also very unique and interesting as people. After randomly meeting Georgia during CCART Walk, we discovered our families are connected through the younger generation and quite close. Daniel spent 14 months studying under a Ceramics Master in Korea. Daniel didn’t speak Korean; the master did not speak English. They communicated through pottery and by immersing himself in the craft Daniel gained incredible knowledge. Jill is someone I have turned to for advice during research about ceramics. She's an incredibly talented potter with over 20 years of practice. I think of her as my Fairy Potter Grandmother. She is magical. Brittany is currently a DCPS teacher. She is warm and brings a sense of calm about her. I am so grateful to have met these wonderful people, and very excited they are joining me in this amazing adventure.
Q. Besides classes and workshops are there any other special events or activities that we can come to expect from Artsy Beast in the future?
A. I have plans to host Friday Night Art Happy hours. I’m calling it “Lushes With Brushes.” Imagine Miles Davis music in the background, a good glass of wine, scent of eucalyptus in the air, and you and your best friend talking and catching up over a watercolor project.
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I helped reconstruct a World War II airplane that flew down to Florida. I built the wings. That was a very meticulous job where I made ribs out of very thin wood sticks that tapered down. Once aligned together in a sequence the ribs constructed the airplane wings. Also, I have an accent; it comes out after my third glass of wine.
Published November 1, 2022
Q. What will people find about Opal's food and service that distinguishes it from other nearby restaurants?
A. For us, we try to be the best quality restaurant and let that speak for itself - we strive for the best in service, the ingredients we use, and the technique that goes into our cooking.
Q. You have done a lot of creative design work in the interior. Does that reflect anything about the food concepts that Opal seeks to achieve?
A. At our other restaurant, Nina May, and now at Opal we try to make it feel refined, but comfortable. At Opal we specifically use the open kitchen and the bar in the middle of the restaurant as focal points. Also, Opal is housed in an older building, and we love to highlight its unique characteristics.
Q. You have many different types of appetizers, main courses, and sides but you also have a unique concept where guests can order one main course from the menu and allow the Chef to curate a multiple course meal for the entire table including courses to be shared family- style. Can you explain a bit more about how that works?
A. At our restaurants we like to offer a dining experience option that is more of an experience, and Simple Supper allows us to do that, but in an approachable way. It gives us the opportunity to do an affordable version of a tasting menu and put forth some of our best dishes, but with options for guests to choose from.
Q. Why Chevy Chase, what is about this neighborhood that you felt would be a great fit for Opal?
A. At Nina May, many guests would come in and ask, “When are you going to open in Chevy Chase, we need something like that here!”
From Chef Colin: I am from the Chevy Chase area and I also currently live here. My kids go to school nearby and I feel very connected to the area and community. As a resident, you begin to see what is missing and I felt like a restaurant like Opal would fulfill a need. We also wanted to offer this kind of dining experience to guests in Chevy Chase and nearby suburbs, without having to go into downtown DC.
Q. You have some very creative cocktails on your menu. Is your beverage program something that is a particular passion to you?
A. From Danilo Simic: When I began in hospitality, I started behind the bar. There I discovered the amazing mix of the creativity of developing cocktails and the interaction a bartender has with their customers. I quickly fell in love with it and that passion shows in our menu. For Opal's cocktail menu, we are really focused on offering a variety of cocktails to our guests, as well as using proper ice technique. We are using ice cubes from a company called Ice Queen Ice Co, an artisanal ice company. These cubes melt slower, ultimately preserving the integrity of the cocktail.
Q. I understand that your upstairs has been totally renovated. What are your plans for that space?
A. We plan to open the upstairs in the near future. Our main focus for the space is private events. On busy nights, we will also utilize the space for extra seating to accommodate more guests.
Q. What about each of you would people would be surprised to learn?
A. Danilo: I love to take long walks with my family.
Colin: I coached and sailed for 20 years prior to being a Chef.