Josephine's Gluten Free Bakery recently opened in downtown Bethesda. Credit: Akira Kyles

A gluten-free bakery in downtown Bethesda is offering a unique twist on one of America’s favorite breakfast dishes – waffles.

Jean Charles Essame said he had wanted to start a business since he moved to Montgomery County from France in 2017. He chose to open his business in Bethesda because he lives there and is already familiar with the area.

Originally, Essame envisioned opening an American-based bakery with native French favorites like crepes, but decided to open Josephine GF instead, he said.

“I changed my mind because waffles [were] more known by the Americans,” he said.

Josephine GF, 4927A St. Elmo Ave., opened in late October, offering breakfast waffles, sweet waffles and savory waffles on its menu.

“This is 100% gluten-free for people who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivity; but not only them, but for the [people without gluten sensitivity],” he said. “My waffles are different because they are organic, fresh-made; this is my recipe.”


Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Essame prepares two separate recipes, one for the sweet waffles and one for the savory. The waffles include savory or sweet inserts and are wrapped in craft paper like a sandwich.

Some savory menu items include the “Call Me Spicy,” which features bacon, cheddar, cream cheese, jalapenos, chips and BBQ sauce; and “Mister Crunch,” with ham, cheese and ranch sauce. Sweet waffle options include “Love you S’mores,” with marshmallows, chocolate spread, whipped cream, cookies, almonds and chocolate sauce; and “Go Bananas,” which features bananas, chocolate spread, whipped cream, almonds and chocolate sauce.


The sweet and savory waffles are vegan, but the bakery also offers a brioche waffle that is made with eggs and dusted with powdered sugar.

The idea for the business came from his wife, Valentine, being gluten-free and was named after their daughter because he thought it would be easier for Americans to pronounce than his name.

So far, he says, the business has received a warm welcome from the community.


“A lot of people came here from all around the DMV saying, ‘Oh my God, finally you opened. We were just looking at you for so long and now we are safe [to eat] here,’” he said.

In the short-term, Essame said he wants to expand his menu to include bread. As a long-term goal, he said he would like to franchise the business.

“I tried to make something very easy to reproduce, but I want to be careful with that,” he said. “That will be my goal to get some more shops for people in demand who have celiac disease.”


The bakery is open 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.