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D.C.'s bagel pioneers
NE business expands far beyond its franchise
(Published June 12, 2006)

Staff Writer

Along a busy stretch of Minnesota Avenue in Northeast Washington, there’s a drive-in bank, a drive-through McDonald’s and … a drive-through bagel bakery?

The creative use of a building at 3839 Minnesota Ave. NE that formerly housed a bank branch is but one example of the way Capel Green and his wife, Shirley, have managed to "think outside the box" to build a successful business in an area of Ward 7 that many restaurateurs and retailers have yet to discover.

Before starting the business – soon to be known as Café Jamerica and Bagel Bakery – as a franchise of Chesapeake Bagel Bakery in 1995, Green said he "wasn’t interested in business."

He taught for 15 years in Jamaica and Australia before coming to Washington, where he became a teacher apprentice at Howard University to continue his career, but, suddenly one day, decided that he did not want to teach.

"I did not like what I saw in the public schools, so I preferred to get out of it," he said.

It took a few years for Green to settle on his eventual business career. After leaving teaching, he became a store manager for four years and then an operations consultant in the D.C. area for McDonald’s.

The experience of managing for others shifted Green’s attitude toward business: "I became interested in my own business," he said. At the time, Chesapeake Bagel Bakery was seeking the right person to run a franchise in Northeast Washington, so Green interviewed and was chosen.

Right by his side, his wife followed. Shirley Green had worked in banking for 10 years at what was then known as NationsBank. But she joined her husband in the business world "because he asked me to," she said.

"I started from scratch," Green noted, under a 10-year franchise agreement with Chesapeake Bagel. Having learned the ropes -- and expanded his business beyond bagels to include lunches, dinners and even ice cream – Green said that "when the contract was over, I decided not to renew it."

In the current transitional period, the Greens are continuing their business under a new name, East River Bagel Inc. Their storefront, minus the Chesapeake name, now reads simply "Bagel Bakery."

"Bagels are not a well-known product in the black community," Green said. "Some people are older and they don’t have strong teeth, so that’s why I brought bread in."

Not only have the Greens provided services for their walk-in and drive-through customers, they also offer catering and wholesale services.

"Wholesale is good," Green said, naming numerous downtown Washington hotels – including such well-known names as Wyndham, Westin and Marriott – as among the businesses he provides with bagels.

East River Bagel also specializes in Caribbean dishes such as jerk and baked chicken, curried goat and oxtails – as well as macaroni and cheese, collard greens and more than 30 different sandwiches on the menu.

"It was hard work -- people didn’t think we were going to do well, but we have stood through the hard times," said Shirley Green.

One of the couple’s daughters, Sharone, who is employed by her parents, said that she tried working for others, but found nothing as challenging as the entrepreneurship of the family-run business. She has watched her parents devote a lot of time, dedication and patience to building their business.

"It’s rough," she said. "I’ve seen people open up a business and they are not in it, but my parents are in it all day."

Looking toward the future, the Greens say they aren’t interested in franchising.

"I plan to spend a certain amount of time in this business, so if it’s going to be expanded, then my kids would have to do it," Green said.

Daughter Sharone credits the bagel bakery with keeping her out of trouble, and she admits thinking about a future investment in her parent’s company.

"Out of my four sisters, I would be the one to take over," she said.

East River Bagel Inc., soon to be Café Jamerica and Bagel Bakery, is located at 3839 Minnesota Ave. NE. The bakery is open Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator