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A One-Woman Pastry Shop Downtown Stuffs Sweets With Asian-American Flavors

Rose Ave Bakery accepts preorders for matcha chocolate chunk cookies, Filipino cheese rolls, and ube mochi crullers

Rose Ave Bakery owner Rose Nguyen.
Rose Nguyen/Rose Ave Bakery
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Three days before D.C. shut down most businesses to limit the spread of COVID-19, Asian food hall the Block marked a big move into the city, opening its doors downtown after finding success in Annandale, Virginia, and more recently, in North Bethesda, Maryland. Rose Ave Bakery was one of two opening vendors, setting up shop with sweets like Filipino cheese rolls called ensaymada, mochi crullers dressed in purple ube icing, Vietnamese coffee cream-filled doughnuts, and matcha chocolate chunk cookies with flakes of sea salt popping against their green dough.

After closing for more than a month, bakery owner Rose Nguyen got back to work, selling about half of her 17-item menu so she could prepare every pastry herself.

“I felt like after 40 some days of being in quarantine, let’s start small,” says Nguyen, a former nurse and self-trained baker. “It’s nice to be up and running again.”

Rose Ave (1110 Vermont Avenue NW) now accepts preorders for weekend pickups, including options for coconut mochi puffs and cakes she can’t seem to keep in stock. All of this week’s pastry preorders are already sold out.

“I am doing something that’s unique but also personal to me as an Asian American — it’s representative of who I am and my journey,” says Nguyen, a daughter of Vietnamese refugees.

Since she’s been working alone and she’s the only vendor using the food hall space, social distancing has not been much of a challenge.

“It’s kind of great for me and a little more safe,” she says.

Nguyen’s instinct to care for others went into overdrive when the pandemic reached D.C. When Rose Ave was closed, she made meals to donate to SOME (So Others May Eat). She also organized deliveries to Children’s National Medical Center. Once word got out, people donated money for her to send pastries to hospital workers and patients.

A pastry on a white stand
Passion fruit doughnuts have stuck on the menu since the start, and she has no plans to pull them off.
Rose Nguyen/Rose Ave Bakery

During down time, she also volunteered at World Central Kitchen. She says a representative from the White House’s COVID-19 Task Force inquired about purchasing pastries this Friday, and she offered to treat them, instead.

Nguyen came up with the idea to debut 6-inch cakes over Mother’s Day weekend, and has been selling out of 20 orders every weekend. Each tall treat serves about 10 people. She makes almost all of her doughnuts with a sweet potato brioche base.

“You can’t taste it, but it’s something that adds moisture and lightness to the dough,” Nguyen says. “We try to make things a little more different and interesting than you would experience at another bakery.”

Nguyen moved to D.C. from Philadelphia a decade ago to work as a nurse at Children’s National Medical Center. Cooking became a way to meet new people.

“I quickly started to make friends by having them over for dinner. They became my supportive cheerleaders,” she says. The early encouragement inspired her to start a food blog, make cooking videos, and try out for culinary competitions.

With no formal training, she immersed herself in kitchens. After working at Toki Underground, Maketto, and Ice Cream Jubilee, she relocated to San Francisco to work at the famed Mr. Holmes Bakehouse.

The owners of the Block, approached her about opening a stall at the new D.C. location about two years ago.

She expects demand for cakes and pastries to continue as customers celebrate graduations, birthdays, and other milestones at home.

“It feels nice to be part of someone’s celebration,” she says.

Her story is reminiscent of another nearby self-trained pastry chef: Montgomery County native Caroline Yi, who worked at A Baked Joint and in New York kitchens, debuted Sunday Morning Bakehouse inside North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose complex’s last fall.