A couple like-minded, underemployed progressives walk into a (juice) bar. They decide to start their own bakery/catering company. Cue laughter and noms. That is pretty much the story of how Sara Fatell and Causten Wollerman started Grassroots Gourmet, the home-kitchen bakery and catering company bringing delicious treats to weddings, birthdays and non-profit trainings near you.
Although both are currently employed full-time by non-profits and neither is a baker by training or trade, their treats have been selling like, well, hot cakes. As is the case with so many creative DC endeavors, this one has been growing through friendly help, word-of-mouth, incredible persistence and entrepreneurship (which apparently sometimes involves writing recipes ON the fridge). GG owner Sara Fatell, who runs the biz out of her kitchen, sat down with BYT to give us a taste of what it takes to keep the sugar flowing through the veins of DC’s progressive community.
BYT: It’s food month at BYT.
Sara: Yeah, I’ve been reading people’s fridges.
BYT: Who’s your favorite fridge?
Sara: Not the last guy, the one before that. (Editor’s note: She may, in fact mean Clinton Portis’ fridge.)
BYT: Can you tell our readers a little bit about Grassroots Gourmet?
Sara: Sure. Grassroots Gourmet was a great idea born out of a funny conversation. Someone said, OMG you know Causten right? He bakes, you guys should talk about it. You bake. Meanwhile I’m underemployed part-time with limited healthcare and he’s a student and just left his job. So we have smoothies at the Juice Joint and decided to give it a shot. We asked ourselves, with this whole schitck about being really intentional with how we spend our money as non-profits – if we’re going to such great lengths to get independent artists to design our stuff and union companies to print it and sweatshop free labor and overpriced American Apparel t-shirts and shit like that, why are we spending our money at Cosi? Why are we not intentional about food and why can’t we support something local? So we figured if we created a bakery we’d fill that niche of wanting to support like-minded, local individuals who are making homemade, fresh-baked stuff.
BYT: Since the idea of your business is to have non-profits source their food from a local baker, do you also intentionally, to the extent you can, get local ingredients and produce?
Sara: Yes. It’s a goal, it’s something we’re figuring out every step of the way. It’s a constant balance in that we’re very small and home-based service so the space is an issue. And I can’t get my flour from the guy at DuPont because it’s too expensive, basically. But I can go to the DC farmer’s market and get eggs and I can talk to the farmers at my local farmer’s market about getting fruit off the truck. And we’re going to workshops about how to green your business and using technology instead of paper trails so we’re trying to be as green and local as possible.
BYT: Your business is run out of your house so do your friends or roommates every just jump in and help?
Sara: Um… my roommates like to lick the spoon. They don’t really bake but when I’m really busy I tell my friends ‘I can’t come see you at the bar but you can come here and sit with me and help.’ Sure.
BYT: What kind of places have been ordering from you?
Sara: When we first started we did 25 drop-offs around the city. We took cookies and a Thanksgiving menu to our favorite non-profits and I’d say at least half of them have placed orders so places like Campus Progress, American Rights at Work, SEIU, the Center for Community Change, Center for Progressive Leadership, Choice USA, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. And besides catering to non-profits we also cater to the people that work there. We’re all busy, I don’t know, creating change or something, so you have to go to a potluck, go to a friend’s house for dinner, or bring your boo something nice, we’ll deliver to your office. It saves you the hassle and from going to Whole Foods and paying too much for some cake that was baked somewhere else.
BYT: You also cater?
Sara: The whole thing is technically catering, since it’s all delivery. But we did cater a wedding event two weeks ago which was pretty great. It was two young progressives who were doing a very DIY wedding. We catered all the desserts for a 150-person event and worked with them to figure out their budget and worked on site for a couple hours. And this woman Michelle jumped in and helped us. That’s what I love about this business is that it’s really grassroots and homegrown. Like I don’t know anything about a website and Perez (a blogger at Feministing) hooked me up and showed me how to use WordPress and if I ever have a problem I still call her. All our friends have these skill sets and if anybody wanted to start a business, they could if they just call on their friends for a little bit of help here and there. And they’re all cool and happy to help because they want to see their friends succeed. It doesn’t always pay out but it always works out.
BYT: Going back to the wedding for a second – I hear you had a really creative set up.
S: Oh yeah, it happened around Christmas that I wanted to do a Harvey Milk and Cookie basket but it was too much to figure out with the milk and the delivery and the basket. So we did a Harvey Milk and Cookie bar. And we had shots of milk and chocolate milk and then soy milk and chocolate soy milk and then cookies. So people were double-fisting milk and beer throughout the party.
BYT: You’re serving a lot of non-profits. Are your prices competitive with other bakeries? I guess I’m asking if there’s any incentive to go with you guys besides the warm gooey feelings that they get.
Sara: Our stuff is market competitive. It is still cheaper than any cupcake in a cupcake shop in town. Our shtick is that it’s made fresh, it’s made not more than 24 hours in advance, it’s made local by like-minded people so you know the money’s not going somewhere crazy, and it’s the same if not cheaper. So there’s no special price just cuz you’re a non-profit and we don’t jack up the price just because you’re rich and live in the Watergate.