Sticky Fingers’ Doron Petersan loves diners, and she hopes you will too

Sticky Fingers Bakery founder Doron Petersan was flabbergasted the first time someone showed her a mood board: A designer had taken the fast-talking, prolific baker’s rapid-fire stream of ideas and organized them into neat little subgroups, complete with design concepts and photos.

“I thought, ‘This is so smart!,’” she said. “’This is how you start from the beginning!’ I usually start from the middle and go around in a spiral.”

The process of getting to her next project, a vegetable-centric restaurant and bar on H Street NE called Fare Well, similarly required careful editing.

Petersan, the two-time winner of Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” who is often credited with bringing vegan baking into the mainstream, has grown her business over the years through her cookbooks; wholesale distribution to MOM’s Organic Market and others; and expanding offerings within her Columbia Heights bakery. But when she thought about another brick-and-mortar, she had a million ideas.

“We could come up with three other restaurant concepts with all the ideas we came up with,” she said during a recent interview at Sticky Fingers in Columbia Heights. “So I consult with a group of people to kind of corral my thoughts.”

What Fare Well has been edited down to is a bakery-centric, New York-style diner — the kind Petersan remembers from growing up in Queens and then upstate New York.

“It was where you went for casual meals, for birthdays, for coffee, for a late-night snack, for ice cream — for everything,” she said. “That’s what we want.”

Except the recipes won’t include any animal products, and all the food will be made from scratch. The bakery will still be front and center at Fare Well, with a glass-enclosed bakery case so typical of diners greeting people when they enter.

(To say the bakery case is important would be a gigantic understatement. Ask Petersan about the bakery case, and she will literally rattle off the contents of a New York diner bakery case, starting with frozen savory items such as pasta and ending with baklava and Italian and Jewish cookies. It’s enough to make this ex-New Yorker mighty hungry. And nostalgic.)

The savory menu will lean heavily on the oven as well — baked pastas, casseroles, other comfort foods, and pull from the Italian, Greek and Eastern European style diners that populate New York streets. Fare Well’s chef, Amanda Desaulniers, comes from Great Sage, a vegan restaurant in Clarksville, although Petersan doesn’t plan to broadcast the “vegan” designation, given that it means different things to different people — namely, vegans of different strictness.

Also, she admits, she doesn’t want to scare people away.

“I think you have this perception, ‘Oh, I don’t need to eat that because I’m not vegan,’” Petersan said. “Having a vegan business for 12 years has made me realize how confusing this is for people.”

The 2,600-square-foot space at 406 H St. NE will seat about 50 people between the dining room and the combination lunch counter/bar. It cost about $1 million to build out, which Petersan is financing through an SBA loan, a D.C. Great Streets grant, some contributions from the landlord and an indiegogo campaign.

But ultimately, Petersan was interested in H Street NE, and also in doing something completely different than Sticky Fingers. The reason? In part, it’s because vegan baking has become a lot more common than it was 12 years ago when she first launched her business.

Fare Well is aiming to open in October; in the meantime, she’ll be previewing some of the menu items at two pop-up dinners at G by Mike Isabella Sept. 21-22.

So what got edited out of Fare Well? A zeppole (fried Italian doughnuts) and lemonade truck, for one. But stay tuned. It could be the next next thing.

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