The market trying hard not to sell out


Danielle Vogel comes from a long line of grocery store owners. Her new store, Glen’s Garden Market, is tailored to promote her environmental ethos. (Marvin Joseph/THE WASHINGTON POST)
April 16, 2013

Supermarkets are part of Danielle Vogel’s DNA. Relatives on both sides of her family have owned and operated grocery stores dating as far back as the Jazz Age, when women were just beginning to shed the straitjacket conventions of 1920s America.

Nearly a century later, as she was molding her own career, Vogel gave little thought to peddling groceries. She couldn’t seem to shed the family’s expectations that she and her sisters would do more with their lives than hawk fruits and vegetables. The mantra was so familiar inside the household that both Vogel, 33, and her mother can repeat it word for word today.

“Girls,” Susanne Brody would tell her three daughters, “you can be whatever you want after your federal clerkships.”

Vogel dutifully earned a law degree, clerked with the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security and eventually served as the environmental counsel for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) from December 2008 to March 2011, fighting to win support for a climate change bill. But when the bill died, a victim of classic Capitol Hill politics, Vogel had had it with trying to improve the environment via the sausagemaking process in Congress. She decided to heed the call of those who had gone before her.

Danielle Vogel was going to be a grocer.

Glen’s Garden Market, a 10,000-square-foot operation carved out of the old “Secret” Safeway north of Dupont Circle, is her vision. It’s not a conventional supermarket, nor even a store like Whole Foods or MOM’s Organic Market . Glen’s is a concept that will mix Vogel’s past with the future, advancing the family’s history of supermarkets with the hope of helping us avoid a future full of environmental catastrophes. The store is Vogel’s attempt not only to promote sustainability and local products but also to wean Washingtonians off those goods from faraway lands that contribute to global warming.

Glen’s will officially open on Sunday, the day before Earth Day.

Vogel’s tools for accomplishing her mission are the same as those behind farmers markets: geography and artisan producers. With the exception of some staples (items such as olive oils, salts and other “forbidden fruit of the non­indigenous tree,” as Vogel dubs them), Glen’s Garden Market will sell products sourced only from the states of the Chesapeake watershed, from New York to Virginia.

What that means: At Glen’s, you won’t find pineapples from Costa Rica, farmed fish from Chile, wines from France, butter from Ireland or strawberries from California. Save for the “forbidden fruit,” every one of the 1,100-plus items on the shelves will come from regional producers, each personally selected by Vogel.

The store, she says, “is a logical extension of what I was doing” on Capitol Hill. “Everything we do is environmentally focused.”

If Glen’s Garden Market sounds like the product of an ambitious, highly educated adult from a Type-A family, well, Vogel is guilty as charged. She is the thin, wiry and slightly hyper daughter of Brody, an assistant federal defender in the Southern District of New York. Her late father, Glen Rosengarten, was the co-founder and chief executive of the Food Emporium, a mold-breaking grocery chain. Danielle, her mother says, spent her high school years in Greenwich, Conn., toting around the works of historian and activist Howard Zinn.

“By the time she was a junior and asking me to proof her papers, they were beyond me,” Brody recalls.

After Vogel graduated cum laude from Tufts University, she started working for fellow Connecticut native Christopher Shays, then a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, whom Vogel had long admired. She left Shays’s office to enter the American University Washington College of Law, which led to her job as environmental counsel for Lieberman.

The climate change debacle was not the only thing that soured Vogel on politics; so did the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down provisions in the campaign finance reform law, which Shays had helped craft. Vogel decided to leave politics for good, starting her second career as a cashier at Whole Foods in Arlington.

She had an agenda: Because she had never worked at one of her family’s supermarkets (her father’s Food Emporium had been sold to A&P when she was a child), Vogel needed to understand how the grocery business operated.

Her ad­ven­ture in Arlington didn’t last long. About three months in, a Whole Foods manager learned that Vogel was conducting recon for her own store. “I was just a little too attentive,” Vogel says in retrospect.

Vogel quickly found employment at the Butcher’s Block, chef Robert Wiedmaier’s market in Alexandria. She spent a year there, using it as a platform to research local producers and products for what would become Glen’s Garden Market. She learned one important lesson: Customers would embrace local products if she could provide a compelling back story.

The budding grocer also was spending her off-hours visiting farmers markets and traveling to trade shows to sample the wares. At a Startup DC pop-up market, Vogel met Sophia Maroon, a Chevy Chase filmmaker who had launched a small line of vinaigrettes under the name Dress It Up Dressing . Vogel decided to carry all four of Maroon’s flavors, even though none were prepared with local ingredients.

This is the fine line that Vogel must walk: While her store will stock products from the Chesapeake states, those items won’t always be made with local ingredients. It’s a necessary compromise to keep her shelves stocked.

It was most important “that I was a local company and that I manufactured locally,” Maroon says about the qualifications to become a Glen’s supplier. “It’s part of my plan to get everything locally” as the company grows.

Vogel knows where to draw the line, however. When a Virginia peanut producer told her the company was going to shift its warehouse operations to New Jersey, Vogel was ready to cancel her orders. She couldn’t stomach the thought of all that fossil fuel burned to truck Virginia peanuts to New Jersey, only to have the goods shipped right back to the District. Her stance led to a surprising result: The company agreed to package and send Vogel her orders straight from Virginia.

Jay Rosengarten, Vogel’s uncle and an adviser for Glen’s, can appreciate his niece’s challenges with finding the right products. He and his brother, Glen (Vogel’s dad and the man for whom her market is named), had encountered similar difficulties in trying to stock their first Food Emporium in Manhattan. Their goal was to diversify their existing Shopwell supermarket chain by expanding into the gourmet grocery business under the Food Emporium banner.

“We spent a lot of time traveling all over the world trying to find product,” Rosengarten remembers. “We were very fussy about who we were doing business with.”

The Food Emporium, however, had several advantages over Glen’s Garden Market in preparing for launch. It was part of a revenue-producing chain; Jay and Glen Rosengarten had the luxury of time and corporate cash to lay the groundwork for their debut store in 1980. The Food Emporium was not exclusively a gourmet store, either. Its specialty products would be stocked among the standard items on the shelves, blurring the line between gourmet and mass-manufactured foods.

Glen’s Garden Market will be more like a year-round farmers market. Its produce will ebb and flow with the seasons. Some staples of the American household, such as paper towels and soaps, probably will never find their way into Glen’s, which is part of what concerned Vogel’s mother and uncle when they first learned of the concept. They couldn’t see how the project would be profitable.

“Quite frankly, I almost had a nervous breakdown,” Brody recalls. “I knew what the expenses would be.”

But true to her meticulous nature, Vogel commissioned an in-depth market study to determine whether Glen’s could generate enough revenue to sustain the business. The numbers were encouraging, and they improved when Vogel made the critical decision to treat her operation like a restaurant as much asa market. She hired Sean Sullivan, a trained chef who had previously worked at Matchbox and the Hamilton, to lead her kitchen operations.

Sullivan and his team will be transforming local ingredients into sandwiches, salads, pizzas, sausages, soups, pickles, pastrami, bacon and many other house-made products, available for takeout or dining in. Glen’s will have 26 seats inside and an additional 16 outside for customers who will have the option to pair their food with one of eight local beers on tap or perhaps a Virginia or New York wine available by the glass.

It was the emphasis on prepared foods that convinced Jay Rosengarten that Glen’s could turn a profit: “That was the tipping point for me,” he says.

The National Grocers Association is hard-pressed to determine how groundbreaking Glen’s Garden Market will be. Marty’s Market in Pittsburgh “does something somewhat similar,” Lauren E. Hefner, director of communications and marketing for the association, said via e-mail. “There are others, I’m sure.”

Like many new businesses, the store was outfitted in part with recycled and reclaimed materials, but Glen’s has adopted other, perhaps more original, approaches to help save the environment. The store will sell only frozen meat for home cooks because the fresh stuff can quickly spoil, thereby wasting the abundant energy that went into producing the protein. Vogel will not even offer paper or plastic bags. Should customers need a bag, they can put down a small deposit and carry their groceries home in a large reusable one.

Vogel’s mother recently reviewed Glen’s Garden Market and has revised her opinion of her daughter’s new line of business. “There is not a doubt in my mind that this could work,” Brody says.

But she still has a concern, more maternal than professional. The store will require a lot of attention, morning to night. “I know how hard she works and the hours she puts in,” mom says of daughter. “And they say law is a demanding mistress.”

Glen’s Garden Market, 2001 S St. NW, 202-588-5698. www.glensgardenmarket.com. Open daily, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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