It was sad but inevitable that some restaurants would close during the pandemic. What’s surprising is the number of places that either opened or announced a future opening. In the last nine months, Bethesda Beat has reported on at least three dozen restaurants, ice cream parlors, markets, cafes, food trucks and bakeries that have set up shop or are in the planning phases. Some are regional chains moving into our market, others are locally founded chains sprouting additional units or new concepts, and there are independent operators trying out first and second locations. Last summer, Poyoteca, a Peruvian chicken restaurant, opened in Rockville, while Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican operation with four other locations in Maryland, moved into the Kentlands. In October, Francis Namin, owner of the local Fish Taco chain, expanded into Italian food with Piccoli Piatti, a Neapolitan pizza place in Wildwood Shopping Center. And while several dessert-based businesses closed, others took the plunge, such as Pitango, a gelato and coffee shop that opened in Bethesda in May, and Pâte à Cake, a French bakery in Gaithersburg that welcomed strawberry mousse lovers in August.
Where did they all get the chutzpah? Most were already locked into leases before the pandemic hit, but openings were delayed. For the mother-daughter team of Sarah and Annie Park, who run Sarah’s Handmade Ice Cream & Treats on River Road in Bethesda and opened a second location in the Wildwood Shopping Center in October, online ordering, contactless delivery and pickup, along with overwhelming community enthusiasm for local businesses, allowed them to move forward. Plus, they quickly discovered that people cooped up at home were craving sweet comfort foods, such as the shops’ dueling top sellers, Oreo Lover and Coffee Oreo. Ice cream, says Annie Park, had become “very essential.”