This is the third in a series of posts about local businesses and their owners. Check out earlier posts about Revive Catering and Food-On-The-Go and Studio 85!
When Shannon Boyle opened Uncle Chips Coffee and Dessert at North Capitol and Bates Streets this January, she knew that the spot might be a little removed from the other business hotspots in the neighborhood, but for her, the community was still a real strength. “It’s so diverse,” she says, “there’s all different backgrounds, different socio-economic levels. There’s also children here, and families, and I like that. You don’t find that in lots of other neighborhoods.” And since Shannon bought and remodeled the building herself, Uncle Chips is here to stay.
The café, which opened in January and offers coffee, baked-in-house desserts and bagels, is the end result of five years of slow, steady, and very, very hard work from Shannon. She used to be a social worker in San Francisco, helping the local bar association provide services to the homeless and mentally ill, but every Monday, when she had off, she’d bake cookies for her roommates, just for fun.
She tinkered with her recipes for about a year in her free time, as she also prepared to go to law school. She was signed up, registered and ready to go, when she made one of those giant life-changing decisions we all hope we have the guts to make – she decided to drop it all, and go into the cookie business full time.
She moved to DC, where she had a deep network of family and friends from her undergraduate days at UVA, and launched Uncle Chips (named after one of Shannon’s uncles) as a mail order bakery business. That service is still in operation – you can order cookies via mail, get cookies delivered to your home or office or even place an order and pick them up in the store – but her goal was always to have a storefront. “The delivery business is great, but it never let me interact with people!” she says.
It took time. Shannon laughs when she thinks about the route she’s taken to get here, including stints as a hostess at a restaurant, as a Capitol Hill fundraiser, as a temp, as a part-time Italian tutor, as a guinea pig for NIH, and many, many more. She shrugs. “I don’t have any real business knowledge,” she says, “but I am very, very patient.”
So now, after five years, she does have her own space, with an office and shipping services on the second floor and the café downstairs. And we have a pretty solid new option for coffee, breakfast, lunch and meeting our neighbors here in Truxton Circle.
I stopped in to chat with Shannon on President’s Day, which was one of those weirdly warm, beautiful days we’ve been having so many of lately. As we talked about the neighborhood, two other customers, Nora and Tim, chimed in. Nora had been frustrated about how tough it can be sometimes to convince Bloomingdaleans and LeDroit Parkers to cross Florida Ave. “It’s not that far!” she said, “It’s all mental! I’m just trying to bring my friends down here, to just get them used to it.”
With the warm atmosphere, the good coffee and the (totally awesome, by the way) fresh cookies at Uncle Chips, I think Nora’s going to find it easier and easier to bring her friends down to Bates.
6 thoughts on “G2K a BACA Business: Uncle Chips”
I love this place. Breakfast sandwiches are awesome and the cookies worth doing an extra mile run for. Thank you posting this – great job.
Uncle Chips is Great! Oh, and so is this blog post.
Thanks Jon! Munching on a cookie right now…
I checked out uncle chips on Saturday and had to go back the next day. Bought a dozen cookies for a party and they were a huge hit!
I live right around the corner on Bates. I just bought a house here and have been looking for those hidden gems. I feel so fortunate to have such a strong business around the corner. My roommate and I go for lunch often and the sandwiches are much better than the typical $8 DC bite. Thank you so much for being a pinnacle of our community. With the cycle house coming, I think we can expect a revival of our 1500 block of N. Capitol street!