Greetings District Readers! Our apologies for the gap between posts. The Ninja team has been planning out longer term projects that we can’t wait to bring your way. One of these has finally arrived: The District Spotlight. Every month or two, the Ninja team will interview a business in DC that has been established for at least 10 years. While the data tends to support the notion that DC is a transient city, there are countless District businesses that have bucked this trend and have helped make many of DC’s neighborhoods what they are today, well before the arrival of transplants and new development.
Many of these businesses have been in their current neighborhoods well before they were labeled “up and coming.” Many of them were also started by foreign nationals with a limited proficiency in English, set to build a permanent (read: non-transient) life in the District. These businesses also often opened their doors before entities like D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development were created; in other words they did this on their own. The goal of our Spotlight features is to highlight on these businesses origins and stories and see how their surroundings have changed since they first opened their doors over a decade ago.
For our first Spotlight feature, we have chosen Crown Bakery located in Brightwood Park at 5409 Georgia Avenue NW, Washington DC 20011. Since 2000, Husband and Wife team Trevor and Jennifer Selman have been providing the neighborhood with authentic Trinidadian (Trini) pastries and cuisine. Within seconds of entering, you are greeted by a family like atmosphere filled with delicious aromas of fresh baked bread, curry, and various types of roti. The smell was so good that I just had to devour my own goat roti and fresh juice before starting the interview. Trevor and Jennifer moved to the District in 1999, following 20 years in New York City where they first settled after arriving in the United States from Trinidad and Tobago. In New York, Jennifer was a fashion designer and Trevor was a promoter. So why a bakery?
In describing their start, Jennifer said “when we first moved here, we didn’t know how to bake like this.” However, they knew they wanted to work for themselves and continue the art of creating things. Jennifer’s brother Wayne was the master baker and began to teach Jennifer and Trevor how to bake. The Selman’s did not start with a brick and mortar establishment. Instead, they started off by placing different pastries and bread in several Caribbean establishments that already existed such as Rita’s. The Selman’s first major break came after one of Marriott Hotel’s head chef’s stumbled into one of these establishments and tried one of the Selman’s pastries. Upon taking a bite, he said he needed 800 in the next few days. The shop owner quickly called the Selman’s and Trevor, Jennifer, and Wayne immediately scrambled to make it happen and they did with much success.
When they first opened their doors and to this date, Crown Bakery’s customer base has been the DC, Maryland and Virginia based Trinidadian population. There’s no question that DC’s population has rapidly grown since Crown Bakery’s doors first opened. Today, DC’s total population is growing with a projected rate of 1,000 new residents a month. The Selman’s stated they are feeling the impact of this growth and that they have seen a higher volume and more diverse customer base in Brightwood Park. The data we took a look at supports this. Since 2010, the census tract which Crown Bakery resides in has seen a population growth of roughly 21%. There has also has been incredible growth in the Caribbean population in this area as well. In just a four year window, the population grew roughly 1,000% from 37 people to 317.
Total Population 2010-14
When I asked Trevor what crime was like, he indicated that their had not been much change since they first opened their doors. “The neighborhood has mostly remained the same” Trevor said. Like with the population, the data supports this. We took a look at the top 5 crimes that were committed the most in the area from 2012 to 2015. Theft appears to be the main crime of concern in Brightwood Park. Roughly 50-60% of each year’s top 5 crime categories was theft/other or theft/auto. Theft/Other also grew every single year by at least 2%.
While crime may have remain roughly the same, the neighborhood’s rent, housing costs, and population make up has seen some swings. Trevor stated that now days, the area is no longer the “steal” it use to be for rent or cost and they notice a more diverse customer base. “We have seen some businesses struggle now a days with the increased rent and we have also noticed a more diverse demographic that once didn’t frequent the store.” Additionally, Trevor adds, “The rise in rents forced us to purchase our building to avoid the spike in costs that are being felt by our neighbors”. Similar sentiments have been shared by other business owners in the neighborhood. Three Little Pigs, another restaurant in Brightwood Park, is also run by a husband and wife team. “We see a lot of young families, and a lot of highly educated people who know enough to move in where real estate is cheap,” husband, Jason Story said. The data tends to support this, with some some exception.
From 2009-14, the percentage of the population with a bachelors degree grew from 10.0% to 17.0%. In contrast, the percentage of the population with a graduate/professional degree has dropped from 9% in 2009 to 7.1% in 2014. As for home sales, there has been a continual decline in total home sales from 2011 to 2015. The average closing price however, with the exception of 2012, has increased by over $100,000 in just four years.
When I asked the Selmans how much longer they plan to work, they indicated that “retirement is within our sights, but who knows, 5 years, maybe more.” The upstairs location is in the process of being converted into a bar which is set to open later this year. To call this piece an interview is a bit of a misnomer as it felt much more like a conversation and dialogue. It’s easy to see why the wall is filled with pictures of politicians and other local figures who frequently gather at Crown Bakery. The Ninja team deeply thanks the Selmans for their hospitality and we look forward to bringing you our next District Spotlight soon!