For many new business owners, opening their doors can mark the beginning of an exciting new chapter. But for Bernie Rousseau, starting her Olney eatery was fueled by a need to push through a family tragedy.
The same day that Rousseau got her keys to her location for Scratch Kitchen on Feb. 1, she also received a call that her daughter, Angelina, 20, who was also her business partner, had died from cardiac arrest.
According to Rousseau, Angelina was passionate about helping people and wanted to save the world. It’s those personality traits of her daughter that Rousseau wants to shine through at Scratch Kitchen, a Latin Fusion restaurant at 18062 Georgia Ave.
“She was very much into human services aspects and started pursuing that path in school and really wanted to help those with substance abuse challenges and whatnot,” said Rousseau, who lives in Montgomery County. “So that was her thing but as her mom, I said to her, ‘This is not going to be good for you financially.’ ”
Rousseau, 40, said she saw starting a family business as a way to support her daughter’s passion to help people while also helping Angelina generate revenue to support herself. The business would also benefit Rousseau’s other daughter and son, she said. Dealing with her loss, Rousseau persevered to open the business to honor her daughter’s memory. She said she had to find a way to navigate through the tragedy if she really wanted to help the community.
“You really have to step outside of yourself in tragedy,” she said. “When you go through stuff, it’ll expose your true intent, and that’s for anyone. So, was my intent truly to add value to the community and create this ecosystem or is this just about me worrying about myself and my family? Is there a greater mission here? Honestly, I stuck true to that — that mantra of this is bigger than me, this can be so much – the impact that can be made here, it was never just supposed to be about my children, it was about the community and making a change in the industry.”
Rousseau’s Italian and Puerto Rican roots influenced how she wanted to run her business and the menu offered by Scratch Kitchen. Rousseau grew up watching her Italian grandmother cooking large meals for not only her family but any of Rousseau’s friends who were going through a hard time.
The eatery’s name comes from the fact that most menu items, except those from local producers, are made from scratch.
The menu includes breakfast items such as buttermilk pancakes and jerk chicken and waffles; among the lunch offerings are a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich and a house-made crabcake. Appetizers include Scratch Kitchen empanadas and pupusas. The eatery also offers a variety of baked goods ranging from Danish pastries and muffins to cake, brownies and cinnamon buns displayed in a glass case at the front counter.
The restaurant has limited indoor seating and plenty of benches and tables for outdoor seating on the front patio; takeout is also available.
Scratch Kitchen also offers premade meals through Eat Din Din, an online meal-delivery service technology company, Rosseau said. The meals can be purchased through the business’s website with 48-hours’ notice.
It is important to Rousseau and Scratch Kitchen to ensure that they are adding to the community, Rousseau said.
“We will make sure that we pay a living wage, that we treat people kindly, that we make sure they feel cared for and that we are adding value to the community by working with Black and Latino producers and women-owned businesses, creating a business ecosystem to get producers who traditionally don’t have a lot of exposure or don’t know how to navigate their product.”
The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and Sunday.