Cagla Onal-Urel, the chef and farmers market entrepreneur who entranced local and national food critics from behind an eight-seat Mediterranean lunch counter in Shaw, will not bring Green Almond Pantry back to the the tiny storefront that suffered a kitchen fire in late December. The good news, though, for fans of her fluffy focaccia, zippy bean salads, and vibrant Mediterranean spreads, is the nourishing daytime spot is primed to make a comeback at a new space in Georgetown later this year.
Onal-Urel tells Eater she has signed a new lease, but she didn’t want to disclose the address because she’s still awaiting permits and doesn’t want to jinx anything. It’s understandable if she’s feeling squeamish; she hasn’t cooked in her own kitchen since December 20, when a fire in her Ninth Street NW building forced her to flee out a back door. Before that, she had to adapt her small, all-indoor counter and market to the COVID-19 crisis by arranging weekly pickup packages with a couple a la carte options, including that airy focaccia topped with tomatoes or a rotating cast of seasonal vegetables.
While Onal-Urel stayed busy, gratefully accepting space as a guest chef at Anxo cidery in Truxton Circle, she says she had to stay patient in her search for Green Almond Pantry’s new home. Knowing she had to balance high food costs meant she needed to find something small. Her new kitchen is already built out, and now she’ll cook with a ventilation hood and a grill, two amenities she didn’t have in Shaw. She’s bringing over the same electric oven she used to bake demi baguettes for velvety eggplant confit and goat cheese sandwiches.
‘The thing is it’s actually been a tough search,” she says. “I know there’s a lot of places available, but the rents are so high.”
Onal-Urel says the idea of returning to Georgetown, where she introduced Green Almond Pantry at the farmers market, is exciting. The daytime crowd might be better in the tourist-heavy neighborhood, too. She has never accepted investors, she says, because she knows they would push her to add nighttime hours. After missing a large chunk of her preteen daughter’s childhood, she says Green Almond Pantry was designed to allow her more family time.
“I did so many openings when she was a baby. I missed so many moments,” Onal-Urel says.
While she says she’s been wanting to “announce it to the whole world,” Onal-Urel will feel like the move is real once she has all her permits in hand. Until then, she’ll dream about serving the type of nourishing dishes full of vegetables, lamb, and high-quality tinned fish that she loves to eat at home.
“I’m so ready to go back,” she says. “I need to. So we’ll see.”