Shopping at Glen’s Garden Market has never felt like an errand. While you might not be able to buy everything you need to make a detailed recipe ripped from the pages of Bon Appétit, perusing the shelves for the latest local products and chatting with sales associates about where the sweet potatoes comes from leaves you feeling like you’re part of a like-minded community that puts the planet first.
Danielle Vogel, a fourth-generation grocer, intentionally opened Glen’s on Earth Day 2013 after leaving a career on Capitol Hill advising lawmakers on environmental issues. When sweeping climate change legislation died in the Senate in 2010, Vogel sought to make incremental progress “one bite at a time.” The store on S Street NW in Dupont Circle is solar-powered, offers free composting, and operates with zero food waste.
Washingtonians count on Glen’s for holiday spreads, breads and sweets from a master baker, local beer and cider, quick meals from the prepared foods section, fresh produce, and what might be the best pulled-pork sandwich in the city. Before the pandemic, friends and neighbors mingled inside at the store’s bar and outside on its patio.
As Glen’s found its footing in the early years, customers cheered them on. Vogel recalls a surprising moment in 2014, as business picked up. “A regular neighbor found me stocking groceries and asked if I’d moved the milk again,” she says. “I told her I was embarrassed to report that we were a grocery store with no milk to sell—we’d run out. Instead of being disappointed and sharing her frustration about the inconvenience, her face lit up, she clapped her hands, bounced in the air, and exclaimed, ‘We’re so busy!’ Glen’s success was very much a group activity. We’ve been rooting for each other from the start.”
That success was tested in 2015 when a $70 check to a small purveyor bounced. “When you run a no-margin business and your bank account runs dry, the math problem is particularly acute,” Vogel says. “We pulled it together quickly and strategically, but to this day, that bounce notice sits on the wall above my desk to remind me to never stop hustling.”
Another challenge came when Vogel expanded to Shaw and opened a second Glen’s Garden Market, which operated from December 2015 to April 2018. Vogel says the occupancy never materialized at The Shay development that housed the store. “Then Whole Foods broke ground and I knew in two years they’d eat our lunch.” Vogel vowed to reinvest her resources into making the original Glen’s “like an activated community center, which was always the dream.” Union Kitchen took over the Shaw space that Glen’s vacated.
But Glen’s biggest test was the pandemic. The shop had to shut down two of its biggest revenue drivers—the bar and the sandwich counter. Vogel was complying with restrictions the city established and ensuring that customers shopping for groceries and household goods were prioritized over people popping in for a sandwich since capacity limits were in place. She also focused on keeping what staff she could retain safe and financially stable. She split employees into pods on set schedules and built in paid time for staff to stay home and recuperate from the anxiety of working a frontline job during a public health crisis.
“We had everything we needed and she took time and effort to think through how the store would operate in the safest way for our team in a way that also fed the community and kept up what we hold to be valuable at Glen’s,” says Zoe Serratelli, who heads the perishables department.
Serratelli’s two-year employment anniversary is coming up in June. By then, Glen’s will be without the leader employees fondly call “D.” Over the winter, Vogel realized she’d reached her goals and was ready to move on “after leaving it all on the field.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what it would mean to close Glen’s for the community, the team, and the vendors,” she told City Paper in February. “I’m feeling compelled to do it from an economic perspective, but culturally, there’s a big gap in my heart.”
Before the pandemic, Vogel had started to think about whether there was a path forward for Glen’s without her. She reached out to other regional grocers to float the possibility of an acquisition. “One was a flat-out no. Another was impossible. A third was willing to have a conversation,” she says.
Enter Bart Yablonsky, the owner of Dawson’s Market in Rockville Town Square. He’ll officially acquire Glen’s sometime in June and will convert it into a second location of Dawson’s. Vogel made Yablonsky “an offer he couldn’t refuse” with a couple of nonnegotiables. Vogel often says she measures success in progress, not profit. The structure of the acquisition deal was no exception. She was more concerned about Yablonsky committing to protecting her employees’ jobs at their current pay rates than about recouping her financial investments.
“Bart and I reached an agreement to protect everyone’s jobs, we’ve paid down our debts, and the acquisition will ensure Dupont has a fantastic place to shop for groceries indefinitely,” Vogel says. “I feel really good about all of it.”
Yablonsky has shepherded a similar transition before. The Baltimore native was the general manager at Dawson’s when grocer Rick Hood opened it in 2012. He stayed on until Hood closed it in 2018. Seven weeks later, Dawson’s reopened with Yablonsky in the driver’s seat. When rebuilding Dawson’s from scratch, he used the opportunity to cement the store’s commitment to selling local products and building community.
“I didn’t have the intention of looking for another location, but when we started talking this made so much sense because we’re so similar,” Yablonsky says. The Rockville location is bigger than Glen’s, but has similar components, including a bar. “We want to be here long term and having a second location will solidify that.”
During his career, Yablonsky has done everything from open the first Whole Foods in Georgia and work in frozen-food manufacturing in Arlington to owning a string of day spas with his wife in the D.C. area. At one point, he ran the Fresh Fields on River Road in Bethesda, the grocer’s highest grossing store in the country per square foot. (Whole Foods acquired Fresh Fields in 1996.) While Yablonsky was working at Dawson’s Market, he also served as the director of operations for Hood’s other grocery store—Ellwood Thompson’s in Richmond.
Vogel and Yablonsky share a similar ethos when it comes to sustainability and supporting local businesses. Over the course of eight years, Glen’s launched almost 100 small local brands. Women own 60 percent of them and 20 are BIPOC-founded. In the freezer aisle alone, you can find products from M’Panadas, Nomad Dumplings, and Ice Cream Jubilee. Then there’s chocolatier Petite Soeur, nonalcoholic drink maker Mocktail Club, and Lemonade Love. Vogel also ran an AccelerateHERdc contest to help new food brands that are environmentally conscious find their footing through financial support and mentorship.
Seventeen miles away, Yablonsky was hosting “meet the locals” events at Dawson’s so shoppers could mingle with 10 to 15 vendors who shared product samples. He hopes to resume them once it’s safe to do so. He says he’s eager to build on Glen’s portfolio of local products with ones that have been popular at his store. As a part of the acquisition deal, Yablonsky is retaining Vogel as a consultant for three years so she can continue her efforts helping emerging businesses get started in retail. “We want to provide a wider assortment,” Yablonsky says. “That’s the first thing we’ll work on.”
Vogel and Yablonsky also see eye to eye on the important role that small, independent grocery stores play in big cities, especially in the Amazon era. “People like to know where their food comes from!” Vogel says. “They like to know the people who bag their groceries. They like to engage with one another and discover delicious new food.” Vogel’s father, Glen, the store’s namesake, used to say, “As long as people keep having babies, there’s a need for grocery stores. People need to eat!”
“Amazon is the enemy,” Yablonsky says. “I think people are going to realize soon that Amazon is incredibly convenient and easy, but you’re really isolating yourself.” He says the conditions COVID-19 brought about, including supply-chain shortages, demonstrated how important small grocers are in communities. Both he and Vogel say they were more nimble than big corporate competitors.
“The person making decisions is in the building and can make decisions to change quickly,” Yablonsky says. “I ended up buying flour from our gourmet cheese distributor. If you’re a Whole Foods, a Giant, or a Safeway, you can’t adapt that quickly.”
Once the deal was inked and both parties were confident about the future of the store, it was time for Vogel to break the news to employees. Eight Earth Days after Glen’s opened, she told her staff about the transition just before an “Earth Day birthday” tie-dyeing party complete with a six-foot sub from The Italian Store in a park near the market.
Serratelli was touched that Vogel “put everything on the line” to preserve jobs and wages and is optimistic about Yablonsky’s leadership. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we can grow under him,” she says. “He’s still dedicated to local and staying as sustainable as possible. We have to hold him to it.”
For others the news stung. “I was really upset,” says Haley Dean. The Howard University student works the register, stocks products, checks expiration dates, and assists customers with questions. “Danielle and I have gotten really close,” she says. “It’s not like we’re selling the store and I don’t want new people, it’s just that Danielle is so irreplaceable.”
Dean started at Glen’s in January 2020 and only worked for about a month before going on spring break. Howard told its students not to come back because of the pandemic. There were several false starts when the university recommended that students return to campus only to reverse their decision. She ultimately returned to D.C. in August 2020. “The whole time [Vogel] was so patient with me,” Dean says. “She made me feel like she was looking out for me and that I’d have a job to come back to.”
The rising junior is studying criminology. Vogel, who is an adjunct associate professor of law at American University Washington College of Law, mentors her. “She’s proofread every assignment for me,” Dean says. “I’m upset to see her go, but I understand she has to do what she has to do and I’m excited to see what she does. It’s not the last we’ll hear of her.”
Vogel says she’s working on a few projects in the local food space, but for now she’s going to kick back after an impossible year. “I’m looking forward to enjoying a summer rainstorm without worrying that the store will flood or a hot summer day without frantically checking if a refrigerator has failed,” she says. “I’m looking forward to cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, instead of slinging dozens of them.”