Doron Petersan, founder of Sticky Fingers Bakery, chats with Start DC about finding and building a niche in the District.
For over a decade, Sticky Fingers Bakery has been bringing vegan treats to the District. What started with determination and recipe development in Doron Petersan’s kitchen is now a Columbia Heights staple, with an expanded menu to include savory as well as sweet treats.
Petersan, owner and founder, is also a vegan cookbook author and two-time champion on Food Network’s “Cake Wars.” With a second restaurant set to open later this year on H Street, we caught up with Petersan to learn more about founding and growing her business.
How did you end up in DC and why did you decide to start Sticky Fingers here?
After earning my degree in Dietetics from the University of Maryland, I was determined to create vegan counterparts to traditional guilt-laden foods. In 1999, I began cooking these vegan re-creations of classic American baked goods for friends and family, and after winning them over, I decided to start my own business.
Fifteen years later, we’re here in Columbia Heights with a bustling bakery-cafe, and we also sell our products to retail outlets in four states.
Why did you start with a bakery in particular?
I’ve always considered myself a “junk-foodie” and sought to take traditionally indulgent foods—cakes, cupcakes, cookies, pastries—and reintroduce them without the use of animal products. I take pleasure in showing people that this approach to cooking can be delicious while also being health conscious. And now we’ve won twice on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” show, so I guess we’re onto something!
Since you can’t live on cookies alone, we like to mix it up with some healthier, savory items. Our cafe menu also includes vegan versions of classic American comfort food, like biscuits and gravy and burgers.
What is your favorite thing on the menu?
The tofu scramble is my go-to snack. And for something sweet, I’ve always been true to our chocolate chip cookies.
What have you learned since starting your own business?
I’ve learned that it’s key to balance work with my other passions—my family and cycling. When I’m not with my husband, son, and little furry family at home, I’m typically training with my 12-woman cycling group, “Team Sticky Fingers.” We were voted USA Cycling’s 2014 Women’s Team of the Year!
What are your plans for Sticky Fingers in the future?
We recently relaunched my cookbook “Sticky Fingers’ Sweets: 100 Super-Secret Vegan Recipes” in a paperback version. I’m also focused on expanding the brand with the opening of Fare Well later this spring.
Tell us a little bit about Fare Well. How will it be different than or similar to Sticky Fingers?
Fare Well is an inventive American diner serving a veggie-centric menu of classic comforts. In addition to full-service sit down dining, we’ll offer grab-and-go options from the bakery counter and a full bar.
You’ve had such amazing media success, with tons of interviews and Food Network features! Can you offer media tips to new businesses?
Presenting your product as [fulfilling] a niche and as being in demand is key. You can shout as loud as you can, but that will only get you heard. You have to have the product and the business to back it up.
The great news is that most everything can be learned as you create and develop your product and your brand. But you have to be prepared to listen, to bend, and to take apart the criticisms so that they are constructive.