Monica Grover grew up around her family’s store in Maryland, but she never dreamed of owning one herself.
Nevertheless, shopkeeping must be in her blood because Bazaar Spices, the store she now co-owns with her husband, Ivan Fitzgerald, was recently named the winner of the Best New Shaw Business of 2016 Award.
“They definitely are my inspiration,” Grover, 39, said of her parents, who emigrated from India and opened a liquor-deli-grocery store in Shady Side, Md., where she and her two sisters grew up.
Visitors to the couple’s store in Shaw are greeted with the enticing aroma of various herbs and spices, both culinary and remedial. (One customer was purchasing ingredients for an herbal tea he said helps him sleep.)
The idea for the bazaar came after Grover and Fitzgerald decided to travel around the world four years ago — a trip that included Peru, India and Dubai. When they returned to D.C., Grover said they were walking through Union Market and realized it would be an ideal place for a spice shop. Just as they were starting their business there, Grover gave birth to twin boys, now 3 1/2 years old.
“It was pretty intense the first few years,” Grover said. “It was like we had three babies.”
Now the couple manages two stores — the original Union Market location in Northeast, and the 2130 8th St. NW shop that opened in Shaw just last year.
“To be honored with this award was really encouraging, and we were just happy that folks really enjoyed our shop,” Grover said. “It was just a reaffirmation of our hard work.”
The first runner-up in the Best New Shaw Business Awards was Grand Cata, a wine store with a Latin twist that opened last March.
“The idea and the concept of the shop is bringing the flavor of Latin America to Shaw,” said Julio Robledo, co-founder and president of Grand Cata.
Robledo, 37, hails from Chile and co-founder Pedro Rodríguez from Puerto Rico. Robledo said they both came to D.C. about 10 years ago and met while they were both working for an NGO.
“When we got here, we found out that all the wines and the food from Latin America was very, very, very underrepresented,” he said. “We want people to come here and feel like they are transported to Latin America a bit, and as well that they are traveling.”
The store at 1550 7th St. NW carries about 600 labels including beer and spirits, spread out on walls that surround a large open interior. Robledo stressed their commitment to quality and said they sampled more than 1,600 labels before choosing their selection. In fact, the name of the store “Cata” is derived from the Spanish verb “catar,” meaning “to taste.”
The owners highlight winemakers that authentically represent Latin America, with products that respect the culture and are not “faking the wine, or trying to make a wine that is very similar to the flavors of some European countries,” Robledo said.
The second runner-up in the awards was Service Bar — a small, trendy venue at 926/928 U St. NW that was opened in October last year by Chad Spangler, Chris Willoughby and Glendon Hartley.
“We wanted the place to be super comfortable, but also have kind of like that home aspect — but also just put out the best product that we could and just not be super pretentious about it,” said Hartley, 31.
In addition to carbonated and frozen cocktails, Service Bar offers a “hyper seasonal” menu with ingredients sourced from local farms, as well as a “regional” menu that incorporates the flavors of a particular place such as New Orleans, the current selection.
The cozy bar offers a mix of counter and table seating and serves up comfort food in addition to cocktails. “We want this place to be like the best house party you’ve ever been to,” Hartley said.
The Best New Shaw Business Awards have been hosted annually by Shaw Main Streets since 2005. Votes are cast by email, with the three businesses receiving the most votes winning recognition. This year, 40 businesses were eligible for the honors, which were awarded on March 21 at the Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C.