After a decade in Penn Quarter, one-stop chocolate shop Co Co. Sala will serve its last bon bon on Saturday, February 24. The restaurant opened in 2008, and over its lifespan, Co Co. Sala co-owner Nisha Sidhu has served a first lady, watched the neighborhood explode, and stirred countless Cocojito cocktails.
Sidhu didn’t have an ordinary path to becoming a restaurateur. She began her career as a biomedical engineer, then after becoming a mom, she switched gears and enrolled in the professional pastry arts program at recently shuttered L’Academie de Cuisine. As she moves on to a new adventure, Sidhu looks back at her Co Co. Sala memories over the years — including her favorite day of service and shares why chocolate is still her go-to ingredient.
Why are you closing Co Co. Sala now?
Nisha Sidhu: With our ten-year lease coming to an end, the timing was right for us to close.
What were the most popular menu items?
On the savory side, all of our items were pretty equal in popularity, but the bacon mac ‘n cheese, garnished with a strip of chocolate-enrobed bacon, was definitely a standout and my personal favorite.
Did you always think D.C. was a town with a sweet tooth? What do you think of this area’s seemingly inexhaustible appetite for fancy sweets, from the old guard like Georgetown Cupcake to newcomers like Milk Bar?
NS: I just saw a niche that hadn’t been filled at the time. When we started developing our concept in 2006, it was difficult to find a D.C. restaurant that served fine dining-level desserts late at night. No one was doing multi-course desserts unless it was part of a chef tasting menu, and diners were usually too full to enjoy dessert by the time they were served. I think it’s wonderful that there are now so many options in D.C. for those that have a sweet tooth.
What’s your favorite memory from 10 years in business?
NS: President [Barack] Obama’s first inauguration. The energy from our guests and people walking on the streets was absolutely incredible. There was so much love and kindness between even strangers that it was very inspiring. We even served a special dessert that night called “The Obama” served on presidential-themed chocolate sculpture. I will never forget that day!
Another favorite memory happened repeatedly over the years and that was when on certain nights I would look down both of our long bars and realize that it was only women. When we opened in 2008, I knew that of course women love chocolate. But I had no idea of the impact we would have for D.C. women. I don’t know any other restaurant in D.C. where I have seen that ... these were proud, special moments for me especially being a woman entrepreneur.
What was it like serving Michelle Obama in 2011?
If I could pick two people whom I would have liked to come to Co Co. Sala, it would have been Oprah and Michelle Obama. Michelle Obama is such a great role model and an inspiration.
What do you plan to do with any bon bons or excess inventory you might have?
Hopefully, we will be able to sell them all by Saturday. Since our closing announcement we have been quite busy. If not, I plan to distribute to our amazing staff who have been incredibly loyal.
Did you ever feel limited by a mainly chocolate menu?
Not at all, in fact it allowed us to be even more creative. Chocolate is extremely versatile and I feel it is an under-utilized ingredient especially in savory food.
How did the neighborhood change in the decade you were there?
When we first opened, the retail spaces across the street were all empty or under construction, as gentrification had just begun. Primarily people who worked or lived in the area would walk by. Now there are far more tourists, which has been wonderful exposure for us, particularly as we became more known through our national media opportunities.
What’s next for you? Do you have anything exciting planned on the horizon?
I’ve been getting that question a lot lately ... nothing is planned for the near future. I love the industry, but I have other passions that I would like to consider pursuing. I do believe in “never say never” ... who knows, maybe Co Co. Sala will be back one day!