Longtime Washington, D.C., caterer Helen Wasserman first revealed in January 2014 she would open a new restaurant in the former yellow Addie’s building on Rockville Pike.
She had hoped to open Helen’s, an Asian and American fusion restaurant, in six months or so. But troubles ensued: She had to switch contractors, replace the air conditioning system twice and redo a ramp for the disabled. Plus, she struggled with the county over construction, health and fire permits. For six months during construction, the building had no water after its water meter went missing while utility work was underway in the neighborhood.
Two years later, the cozy restaurant is finally ready. It will host a soft opening this weekend and is planning a formal grand opening in May.
“When I got this place I never dreamed I’d have to rebuild it from the ground up,” Wasserman said, sitting inside the completed restaurant Thursday evening. “I’ve torn out everything that was here. The only thing that remains from Addie’s is the façade.”
And even that is different—Addie’s signature yellow stucco exterior has been painted a light gray.
Helen’s exterior. The restaurant is at 11120 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Inside, Wasserman created a homey feel, with a 30-seat dining room filled with white tables, tan booths and dark brown leather-covered chairs. There’s a pocket-square of a bar, separated from the dining room, with five seats and a small table in the corner. Outside, the tiny building opens to two large patios, both capable of seating 40 people each. The front patio along Rockville Pike is enclosed in a tent. On the side and back of the building is the second patio built around a large shade tree. The side patio still needs furniture, but Wasserman said the furniture should arrive soon.
The dining room (left) and bar area (right) at Helen’s. Credit: Andrew Metcalf (click to expand)
She said she’s happy with the outcome despite the struggles to repair and renovate the aging building. And she never considered giving up on the project.
“Once I started putting money in it, what was I going to do?” Wasserman said. “I’m not a person that’s just going to give up and run away.”
Wasserman first entered the hospitality industry after being encouraged by family members who enjoyed the big dinners she would make. She graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine, a professional culinary school in Gaithersburg, and would cater for friends. Over time she built her business and expanded it to serve large parties and corporate clients. In the 1980s, she briefly ran a restaurant, also called Helen’s on 14th Street in D.C., but had to close it after customers stopped coming following the stock market crashed in 1987. A framed menu from that restaurant hangs in her new restaurant.
She also included a popular dish from that restaurant on the menu for her new place: cheese wontons with guacamole. The menu for the new restaurant features the Asian fusion items she is known for in her catering business, such as edamame dumplings and salmon spring rolls. Other items include grilled lamb chops with pickled eggplant salad and herbed yogurt, sirloin beef sliders wrapped in puff pastry, and chicken served with raspberry vinegar, shallots and plum tomatoes and topped with strawberries and basil.
“It’s a very eclectic menu,” Wasserman said. “There’s more of an emphasis on vegetables rather than meats.”
Wasserman says many staff members from her catering business will work at the new restaurant. One of her longtime employees, Milton Castillo, helped her renovate the restaurant and find new contractors after the first contractor she was working with charged her too much.
“Milton knew that I was struggling with what to do and one day he came to my defense,” Wasserman said.
Now that the construction problems are behind her, Wasserman said she’s ready to open and hopes the restaurant is a success. When asked what she likes most about her new restaurant, she replied, “That it’s complete.”
“I think it’s going to be a wonderful place for the neighborhood and my friends to come,” Wasserman said.