Doron Petersan, the owner of nearly 20-year-old vegan bakery and cafe Sticky Fingers, doubled the availability of her sugary seasonal cupcakes and walnut-studded sticky buns in the District last summer when she opened Fare Well. The Atlas District diner/bar/bakery has since gotten attention from visiting celebrities, including actress Edie Falco, and high-profile politicos. Petersan says New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker gave her a big hug when they first met.
Now, in honor of Fare Well’s first anniversary, Eater checks in with Petersan about growing her empire (she just unveiled a new enclosed backyard patio on H Street), cultivating regulars with dessert, and figuring things out on the fly.
What has the first year been like?
Doron Petersan: It’s always terrifying opening a restaurant, right? But we didn’t really know exactly how people were gonna respond to not only a vegan concept, but also the combination diner/bakery/bar is not one that you see everyday. People walk by and they see the bakery case and they’re like, ‘Oh you’re a bakery!’ And then they see the bar and they’re like, ‘Wait a minute, you’re not just a bakery.’ It’s interesting to see how people perceive it.
What have been your most popular menu items?
DP: Burger, pancakes, and pierogies have been our top sellers. And then our burrata. I mean where else can you get vegan burrata? And our desserts are really strong. I like that cake is our strong point.
With [the new] Whole Foods and so many of the condos and apartment buildings going up, we’ve had so much more foot traffic. People see the cases and they walk in and they grab a cookie. And they’re like, ‘Wait it’s vegan? How do you do it?’ Then I hand them a cookbook and they buy it. Sometimes they come back the next day because they don’t want to make it — ‘cause baking’s hard (laughs).
You’re still operating Sticky Fingers in Columbia Heights. What has it been like to balance the two?
DP: I was [in my early twenties] when I started and I didn’t know what I was doing. It took me a long time to figure out but also I didn’t really have a plan other than to create a really strong bakery. Expansion and growth isn’t only about a second store. I can make decisions left and right and come up with ideas all day long, but it’s really giving people what they want. We definitely want to grow and expand, we just want to figure out the best way to go about it.
What’s on deck for next year?
DP: We’re definitely going to be working on catering in some capacity; moving from bakery-cafe into full-service bakery/diner/bar. We have a year’s worth of numbers behind us and we’ll work off of that. But the goal is always to feed the masses and to make sure that there’s delicious food.
This interview has been edited and condensed.