Less than a year after opening his first Blue Stripes Cacao Shop below New York City’s Union Square Park, Oded Brenner hopes to blanket the cacao-filled cafe across D.C.
Longtime D.C. resident Kanch Algama, a self-described chocoholic and a big fan of Brenner, just bought the territory rights for D.C. and plans to plant 12 Blue Stripes across the city over the next five years. The first is scheduled to land in Navy Yard or downtown later this year, with sites and investors being scouted out now.
Algama, whose day job is consulting for CEOs, also has a background in residential real estate. After meeting Brenner inside his stylish chocolate lab last fall and sampling a “milkshake to die for,” she was sold on bringing the brand to D.C.
Brenner is best known as founder of tourist-friendly chocolate fun house Max Brenner, which has ballooned to 55 locations worldwide since he founded the first one in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1995. This week, Grub Street detailed his recent comeback to the sweets industry following a 5-year noncompete agreement with the conglomerate that now runs Max Brenner.
His latest obsession is on cacao and its endless possibilities (cue the Willy Wonka comparisons he’s known for).
“I was thinking about opening a healthy restaurant — at face value starting a chocolate shop is the complete opposite,” says Algama, a 42-year-old triathlete.
Turns out, chocolate is just one of many byproducts of cacao — a pod-shaped tropical fruit with sticky white pulp dotted with black seeds inside. Brenner’s menu honors its original form as a superfood, a natural stimulant and antioxidant packed with vitamins and minerals.
“He is constantly reinventing the fruit and uses different parts of it,” Algama says. “Nothing is thrown away.”
In Brenner’s Big Apple experimental home base, for instance, he’s turning the fruit’s husks into flour to make gluten-free cookies.
At Blue Stripes, cacao also makes its way into challah French toast, edamame hummus bowls, and energy shakes. There’s also cacao fruit sorbet sundaes, donuts dunked in fondue, and breakfast bowls made from its flesh.
A nonalcoholic “fruit” beer — a riff on a “root” beer — comes with cacao syrup.
A short list of non-cacao offerings includes croissants and eggplant tartines. Of course, there’s also straight-up chocolate served in offbeat ways, including a chocolate “pizza.”
“You can get your chocolate fixes when needed,” she says, adding chocolate-based cocktails are in the works for D.C.
An all-day New York shop curbs cravings until 11:30 p.m., but Algama says the D.C. stores will likely close at 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.
There’s no kitchen, Algama notes, so everything is done in the front of the house, which simplifies operations. She’s working with local retail broker Bill Miller at MillerWalker to lock down locations sized around 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.