MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to Metro Connection. I'm Rebecca Sheir, and this week, we are turning over a new leaf with a show we are calling, "Fresh Starts." For this next story, we'll head up Connecticut Avenue Northwest.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
All right, we are walking up Connecticut. In Washington's Van Ness neighborhood. Sorry about the wind. And go inside -- see if I can open this door -- a construction zone. That's where, these days, you'll find a man...
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Hi, I'm looking for Mark. Who proves that, just because you get older...
Just wait there, to see the old man.
Your "fresh starts" don't have to be finished.
MR. MARK FURSTENBERG
Mark Furstenberg. Hi.
The so-called old man here is baker, entrepreneur and James Beard award winning cook, Mark Furstenberg. I say "so-called" old man because even though the Baltimore native is 75 years old...
Can I ask when your birthday is?
In June, I'll be 76.
He's constructing a brand new bakery called "Bread Furst."
Although I was clearly too old to do it, I really wanted to do it.
Too old? Why do you say that?
75-year-old people don't generally start businesses. 75-year-old people generally are in Palm Beach or Palm Springs, or some Palm.
But not Mark Furstenberg. I mean, he didn't even become a professional baker until his 50s. He worked for President John F. Kennedy, he wrote scripts for ABC News, he even headed a company that manufactured copper tubes. But, in 1988...
I was working for the Washington Post, and I turned 50, and decided I didn't like what I was doing. I didn't like writing about other peoples' experiences. I wasn't ready to give up my own.
So, after an inspiring if heated conversation with his dear friend, then Congressman Barney Frank...
I can't repeat, on the radio, exactly what he said.
Furstenberg decided to take his long time love of food...
And make it my profession.
As for what kind of food to focus on...
I was a single parent of two teenage boys, and my sons and I carried a questionnaire, door to door, around the neighborhood, asking people what they wanted. And those questionnaires came back and people wrote all over them. Why is there no good bread in Washington? I used to live in Brussels. We had wonderful bread. I used to live in California. We had wonderful bread. We want bread. And I, having been a home baker, thought oh, I can do that. That was stupid.
It was not stupid to decide to do bread, but it was stupid to think that I knew anything relevant to baking it professionally.
So, he apprenticed himself at bakeries around the country. And, in 1990, he opened Marvelous Market, credited as the first Washington bakery to turn out European-style, artisan bread. He sold it in 1993, and four years later, he opened Bread Line.
And when I sold the Bread Line downtown, I expected to be finished as a baker. I wanted to be a consultant and coach.
But that gig didn't quite pan out. For one thing...
I wasn't very good at the consultant role.
And for another, in 2010, his older sister died. Carla Cohen had founded and owned the legendary D.C. bookstore, Politics and Prose.
And had done something so wonderful for the city by creating a little institution that is valued by the city. And I thought, partly in her memory, but partly because of my having lived here for half a century, that I ought to try to leave a bakery in the city.
Which brings us to Bread Furst. Mark Furstenberg shows around the airy, split level space.
Well, let's start at the front.
Which will eventually house a bread oven, a pastry case…
And then, as we walk back, we come to the coffee and drink station.
Though, first you'll pass the ice cream station, which will offer six homemade flavors.
And on the counter, there we'll make milkshakes and ice cream sodas. You probably are too young to know what an ice cream soda was.
I can't say it dates back to my childhood.
Yeah, well, it goes back to mine.
And, if you walk upstairs...
Upstairs means up about 12 steps.
You'll pass the food kitchen, where they'll whip up soups and salads and spreads. And the pastry kitchen, where they'll bake everything from croissants to moon pies. Both kitchen will be fully visible to customers.
I wanted to create as intimate a connection as I could between people and the baked goods, so that adults, and particularly children, can watch the process.
That's a big thing with Mark Furstenberg. Educating the people, helping them learn. That's why he enlisted five apprentices to help him open Bread Furst. Like Michelle Vaughan, a young attorney who dreams of opening her own neighborhood bakery.
MS. MICHELLE VAUGHAN
I'm putting together a website for Bread Furst. There was a period of time where I was sort of overseeing the apprenticeship program. There was a period of time where I was participating in design, in looking up vendors, so it's really been all over the map for me.
Same goes for Violeta Palchik, whose vast retail experience actually got her promoted from apprentice to Bread Furst's General Manager.
MS. VIOLETA PALCHIK
You know, Mark was saying it's strange to have someone as old as he is opening a business, but I think we get two benefits. One is he has fresh ideas, even though he's an older man. You know, he's modern, and he also has all that experience, so you get someone who's creative and fresh and innovative, but you also get someone who has a lot of wisdom.
Mark Furstenberg says he plans on contributing his fresh ideas and wisdom full time once Bread Furst opens, most likely in April. But once the business is on its feet, he says, he'll pull back, until eventually, he'll sell it to his staff.
I may appear to all of you to be in good physical condition, but obviously, I'm not gonna be able to be doing this into my 80s. My strategy for trying to create something that is a value to the city over the long run is to sell it to the people who make it successful in the first place.
After that, he says, he's not sure what he'll do. He may stick around D.C...
I've not lived anywhere else for 50 years.
Or, he may not, but one thing is definitely for sure.
You're not moving to Palm Beach or Palm Springs or whatever, are you?
No. I would be bored in Palm Beach.
Want to see photos of a bakery on the rise? We have pictures of the Bread Furst space on our website. And if you want to get to know the Bread Furst apprentices a bit more, we also have links to some of their Pinterest pages. It's all on metroconnection.org.
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