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Going from Marvelous to Organic in Bethesda

Monday, July 21, 2008

Before it was Marvelous, now it's Organic.

Casual cafe Organic to Go is continuing its Washington expansion with the acquisition of the Bethesda Row Marvelous Market. The company also plans to launch its Washington catering and delivery business tomorrow with a 6,500-square-foot kitchen in Northeast.

"The timing's right. People are looking for clean food that's fair value and normal," said Organic to Go chief executive Jason Brown. He says the company was looking to debut in an East Coast city with an educated consumer base and geographically concentrated workforce, and Washington fit the bill.

The Seattle chain appeared on the Washington scene last month, buying a catering business and four area High Noons -- three in downtown Washington and one in Rosslyn -- from Balducci's. The terms of the High Noon and Marvelous Market acquisitions weren't disclosed.

Marvelous Market shed the Bethesda Row cafe to focus on its more profitable stores. "We feel our return on our investment is greater in the other locations," said Lisa Bourven, Marvelous Market's director of purchasing. The nine-store chain recently announced plans to expand to 50-plus stores by 2010. Organic to Go's acquisition "in no way affects the plans," Bourven said. In June, Thompson Hospitality -- owners of Austin Grill and Obi Sushi -- bought Marvelous Market's other locations.

Brown says the Bethesda cafe is ideally situated. "It's a tremendous opportunity, a triple-A location in the heart of Bethesda," said Brown, who approached Marvelous Market six months ago about buying the cafe. Over the coming weeks, Organic to Go's acquisitions will close and reopen with a new menu and the company's green, white and orange logo.

More stores are coming, Brown said. The company is looking for new locations in Washington's business district, Tysons Corner and Alexandria.

The food is organic, but it's not designed only for granola crunchers. Brown describes the business as a "normal American cuisine company" with such offerings as chili, pizza and roast beef sandwiches. For many customers, he said, "the fact that we're organic or clean is just a big plus."

The company opened its first kitchen in late 2004 in Issaquah, Wash., and now operates 34 cafes in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Washington area. About half of its revenue comes from cafe sales, and the other half from its delivery and wholesale businesses. Its second-quarter revenue increased about 56 percent to $6 million. Brown says he expects to be profitable for at least one month by the end of the year.

-- Simone Baribeau

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