The Washington Post

Walter Nicholls, Washington Post Food section reporter, dies at 64

Walter Nicholls, a former Washington Post Food section reporter who helped introduce readers to the burgeoning Asian and Latino food scene and wrote one of the first profiles of the entrepreneurial sisters behind the Georgetown Cupcake franchise, died June 1 at a hospital in Washington. He was 64.

The cause was complications from liver cancer, said Nancy McKeon, an editor at The Post.

A native Washingtonian, Mr. Nicholls had an eclectic early career that included working as a personal assistant to conductor Leonard Bernstein and helping run a catering business.

He began freelancing for The Post in 1989, contributing a story about a wholesale communion wafer business run by the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Georgetown. “We’ve got more dough than Rockefeller,” one of the nuns quipped.

In 1993, Mr. Nicholls started Foraging, which he called “a where to get it, then eat it” column for the newspaper’s Food section. He formally joined the Food section staff in 1996 and tried, he once wrote, to avoid “slimy okra, fake bagels and spicy anything.”

Walter Nicholls in 1997. (The Washington Post)

Over the years, he told readers where to find products for Sri Lankan cooking (Spice Lanka in Derwood, Md.), where to go when you’re in the mood for Middle Eastern salads and dips (Figs Lebanese Cafe in Washington) and demystified the dozens of Vietnamese specialty shops that comprise Eden Center shopping mall in Falls Church.

In February 2008, Mr. Nicholls highlighted the rock-star fervor whipped up by devotees of Georgetown Cupcake, a bakery whose marketing genius was in packaging cupcakes as designer treats retailing for several dollars each.

“I was five blocks away when I heard someone scream, ‘They’re sold out!’ And a little part of me died,” Mr. Nicholls quoted one Georgetown University senior after learning that the shop had run out of lemon blossom, honey yogurt, lava fudge and vanilla soy cupcakes.

The nation’s fascination with expensive cupcakes was long germinating, Mr. Nicholls reported, having most likely started in 1996 with Magnolia Bakery in New York, Sprinkles Cupcakes in Los Angeles and Cupcakes in Chicago.

The Washington store, started by Canadian-born sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis, became a sensation — leading to brutally long lines and then a “reality” TV show on the cable network TLC called “DC Cupcakes.”

“We’ll never forget the day we first met Walter,” LaMontagne wrote in an e-mail Monday. “He knocked on Georgetown Cupcake’s door in 2008, on our second day in business, and spent the entire day with us. He witnessed and wrote a wonderful article about the birth of our business, and he put Georgetown Cupcake on the map.”

Mr. Nicholls accepted a buyout package from The Post in June 2008 and spent several years as Washington bureau chief for BizBash, a media company that serves the meeting and event-planning industry.

He continued to write about food for publications such as Flavor Magazine, Arlington Magazine and the Georgetowner. He also worked as a regional representative for Cook Flavoring Co., a California enterprise that produces vanilla products and other flavorings.

Walter George Nicholls Jr. was born Dec. 6, 1949, in the District. He graduated from Wilson High School and attended New York University, studying film. He was a Washington resident and spent every other weekend on a farm in Rappahannock County, Va.

Survivors include two brothers and a sister.

Staff writer Tim Carman contributed to this report

Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person” and to write stories that are “complex yet stylish.”



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