Sweet sister act
Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. Such was the case for Melissa and Marris Linsao, sisters born and raised in Aspen Hill who started a cinnamon roll business out of the family home in April 2020. Melissa, 27, was laid off from her job as the assistant general manager of three restaurants in St. Petersburg, Florida, after COVID arrived in March, so she returned to Maryland. Marris, 24, was in school at Towson University near Baltimore. The family received news that month that the sisters’ father, Joselito Linsao, was diagnosed with stage-4 bile duct cancer. With jobs hard to come by, and not wanting to risk bringing COVID home, Melissa fretted over not being able to pull her weight financially and help the family during their crisis. That’s when serendipity stepped in.
“We posted a picture of the cinnamon rolls we were baking at home on Instagram and joked about selling them, since you couldn’t go to Cinnabon to get one [at the time], and it blew up. We had 40 orders for Easter,” Melissa says. Even though Marris’ semester hadn’t ended yet and she was also doing an internship, the two went all in, calling the business Matelna Bakes from a childhood nickname Joselito coined combining parts of his three children’s names: Matt, Tel (Melissa’s nickname from her middle name, Christle) and Nana (Marris’ nickname from her middle name, Christiana). Word spread and the orders took off.
Following Montgomery County’s cottage kitchen laws for people preparing and selling food items from home (for example, they had to adjust their frosting recipe because cream cheese doesn’t have a stable enough shelf life), the sisters—with their mother, Laura Linsao, and father chipping in—cranked out rolls from the family’s tiny kitchen. “Everything has to be made fresh because there’s no place to store anything,” says Melissa, who recounts spending many hours in line at Costco buying bulk ingredients. The nascent business was moving along until Joselito died in August. They put Matelna on hold until November.
In addition to oven-ready plain cinnamon rolls, the Matelna Bakes menu includes six kinds of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, each about the size of a grapefruit: classic, chocolatey-chocolate, s’mores, cookies and cream, Fruity Pebbles and M&M’s. You can choose the frosting (vanilla, coffee or cookies and cream) and toppings (chocolate drizzle, coconut, almonds and pecans). Also available are rum or Grand Marnier-soaked Bundt cakes, and cookies (chocolate crinkles, classic chocolate chip and a giant chocolate chip cookie with an Oreo baked inside of it).
Orders, placed online and paid for in advance with Venmo or Zelle, are typically fulfilled within two to three business days. Pickup at the family home is contactless. Tip: Get the variety box of two each of the six bun flavors for $40. Roll prices range from $23 to $25 per half dozen and $33 to $38 per dozen.
The sisters are working on a plan to grow the business. Their goal is to get into farmers markets and open a brick-and-mortar shop one day.
“I found a drawing we did as kids of our Matelna Bakery and now, here we are, a teeny, tiny business in this giant county,” Melissa says. “In the hardest year of our lives, with everything against us, my sister and I were still able to create something we’ve been dreaming about for years.”
Take a bao
For 36-year-old Scott Chung, things have come full circle in North Bethesda. The chef-entrepreneur’s business, Bun’d Up, which specializes in Taiwanese-style gua bao—steamed wheat flour buns sliced open and stuffed with (mostly) savory fillings—got its start there in April 2016, when he sold his first bao at the Pike & Rose development’s Pike Central Farm Market. Almost five years later, in January 2021, he returned to Pike & Rose, opening the third location of what is now his fast-casual chainlet, Bun’d Up, at The Block Foodhall & Bar. (He opened at D.C.’s Union Market in 2018 and in Pentagon City in 2019.)
Chung credits a 2012 visit to celebrity chef David Chang’s New York City restaurant Momofuku, known for its Korean-inspired pork belly bao, as a seminal moment for him, sparking an interest in attending cooking school, learning about pastry and bread-making and starting a business of his own. He graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg (now closed) in 2014, apprenticed as a baker and learned how to make steamed buns and other bread products, including pizza.
Arturo Mei, cofounder of The Block, sought Chung out as a tenant. Says Chung, “The opportunity was good, with cheaper rent, because of COVID, so I was willing to take a chance. I knew it would be brutal in January, but once the [indoor dining] ban eased up and the weather turned, the business took a significant turn.” Andrew Lo, 29, is the executive chef of Chung’s company, which is incorporated under the name Thank You, Have a Nice Day Restaurant Group.
Chung says that one thing that makes his bao stand out is that the buns are made in-house. “[They] have a slightly brown hue and are tender and flavorful. The white buns you see almost everywhere are frozen,” he says. The bao at Bun’d Up include bulgogi (braised beef) with cucumber kimchi; fried shrimp with sweet chili sauce and fried shallots; pork belly with pineapple kimchi and cilantro lime mayo; spicy or sweet fried chicken with slaw and scallions; mushroom; tofu; and a dessert version with cashew butter and banana jam. Three mix-and-match bao cost $13 and make an ample meal. (Otherwise, they are $5 each.) You’ll also find rice bowls and non-bao dishes called “bites,” including deep-fried Brussels sprouts in fish sauce vinaigrette, crab Rangoon dip with wonton crackers, and tater tots with miso ranch dressing.
Bun’d Up, 967 Rose Ave. (Pike & Rose), North Bethesda, bundup.com
Comings & goings
This spring, Seoulspice, a fast-casual Korean restaurant chain, is slated to open in Bethesda’s Westfield Montgomery mall, and a second location of Colada Shop, a Cuban cafe in Washington, is expected to open in Cabin John Village in Potomac.
Toronto-based Chase Hospitality Group is opening an outpost of Planta, its vegan restaurant chain, in the former Café Deluxe space in Bethesda Row this summer. Tacombi, a New York City-based taco restaurant chain, is also slated to open this summer in downtown Bethesda.
National chain Sports & Social plans to open a location of its combination sports bar, restaurant and gaming venue in North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose development in the fall.
In March, Tandoori Nights restaurant closed its Bethesda location (the one in Gaithersburg remains open) after a nearly 10-year run. The fast-casual Mediterranean chain Roti closed its location at Pike & Rose in February.