Mark Furstenberg Prepares For New Adventure In Baking With 'bread Furst' (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Mark Furstenberg Prepares For New Adventure in Baking With 'Bread Furst'

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
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

00:00:21
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

00:00:33
Hi, I'm looking for Mark. Who proves that, just because you get older...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

00:00:37
Just wait there, to see the old man.

SHEIR

00:00:39
Your "fresh starts" don't have to be finished.

SHEIR

00:00:42
Hi.

MR. MARK FURSTENBERG

00:00:43
Mark Furstenberg. Hi.

SHEIR

00:00:45
Rebecca Sheir.

SHEIR

00:00:45
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...

SHEIR

00:00:57
Can I ask when your birthday is?

FURSTENBERG

00:00:58
In June, I'll be 76.

SHEIR

00:01:00
He's constructing a brand new bakery called "Bread Furst."

FURSTENBERG

00:01:04
Although I was clearly too old to do it, I really wanted to do it.

SHEIR

00:01:08
Too old? Why do you say that?

FURSTENBERG

00:01:10
75-year-old people don't generally start businesses. 75-year-old people generally are in Palm Beach or Palm Springs, or some Palm.

SHEIR

00:01:22
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...

FURSTENBERG

00:01:35
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.

SHEIR

00:01:48
So, after an inspiring if heated conversation with his dear friend, then Congressman Barney Frank...

FURSTENBERG

00:01:54
I can't repeat, on the radio, exactly what he said.

SHEIR

00:01:58
Furstenberg decided to take his long time love of food...

FURSTENBERG

00:02:02
And make it my profession.

SHEIR

00:02:04
As for what kind of food to focus on...

FURSTENBERG

00:02:06
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.

SHEIR

00:02:36
Stupid?

FURSTENBERG

00:02:37
It was not stupid to decide to do bread, but it was stupid to think that I knew anything relevant to baking it professionally.

SHEIR

00:02:46
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.

FURSTENBERG

00:03:00
And when I sold the Bread Line downtown, I expected to be finished as a baker. I wanted to be a consultant and coach.

SHEIR

00:03:10
But that gig didn't quite pan out. For one thing...

FURSTENBERG

00:03:12
I wasn't very good at the consultant role.

SHEIR

00:03:15
And for another, in 2010, his older sister died. Carla Cohen had founded and owned the legendary D.C. bookstore, Politics and Prose.

FURSTENBERG

00:03:24
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.

SHEIR

00:03:44
Which brings us to Bread Furst. Mark Furstenberg shows around the airy, split level space.

FURSTENBERG

00:03:49
Well, let's start at the front.

SHEIR

00:03:51
Which will eventually house a bread oven, a pastry caseā€¦

FURSTENBERG

00:03:54
And then, as we walk back, we come to the coffee and drink station.

SHEIR

00:04:01
Though, first you'll pass the ice cream station, which will offer six homemade flavors.

FURSTENBERG

00:04:05
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.

SHEIR

00:04:11
I can't say it dates back to my childhood.

FURSTENBERG

00:04:14
Yeah, well, it goes back to mine.

SHEIR

00:04:16
And, if you walk upstairs...

FURSTENBERG

00:04:17
Upstairs means up about 12 steps.

SHEIR

00:04:20
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.

FURSTENBERG

00:04:31
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.

SHEIR

00:04:42
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

00:04:54
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.

SHEIR

00:05:08
Same goes for Violeta Palchik, whose vast retail experience actually got her promoted from apprentice to Bread Furst's General Manager.

MS. VIOLETA PALCHIK

00:05:15
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.

SHEIR

00:05:34
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.

FURSTENBERG

00:05:48
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.

SHEIR

00:06:06
After that, he says, he's not sure what he'll do. He may stick around D.C...

FURSTENBERG

00:06:10
I've not lived anywhere else for 50 years.

SHEIR

00:06:13
Or, he may not, but one thing is definitely for sure.

SHEIR

00:06:16
You're not moving to Palm Beach or Palm Springs or whatever, are you?

FURSTENBERG

00:06:20
No. I would be bored in Palm Beach.

SHEIR

00:06:24
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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