Dooby’s opens the Hatch
We’ve seen the sign on the windows for months now, but Dooby’s, the new coffee shop on the corner of Madison and Charles Streets, where Donna’s used to be, is open. Or half of it is.
Dooby’s Coffee, on the street level at 802 N. Charles, and the Hatch, a basement space with an entrance on 4 W. Madison are actually two separate spaces that work together to fulfill the owner Phil Han’s dual goals of providing a quality dining experience and supporting Baltimore’s entrepreneurs.
“The idea was to create a place where I would want to hang out,” Han says. That meant four things. First, he wanted to “start out with great coffee because everyone needs coffee,” he says. “Two, always pair that with really great in-house pastries and breads, offer some decent lunch options where you can get good healthy food that’s as locally sourced as possible, and finally round it out with evening bar-snacks that can pair well with our craft beer selection and wine list. That was it. Four things. Four simple things, but if you can converge them all in one place, then wouldn’t you have created the dream place?”
If those four ideas define Dooby’s, the Hatch serves a different, but related function: a place to foster Baltimore’s entrepreneurs.
Han grew up in Baltimore County, but moved to Boston for college, and after that to New York for work. He was amazed by the variety of food businesses in those cities. “I love this city. Love this city,” he says. “But I was like, we need to get to a point where we stop living in the shadow of our competitors and start doing something.”
Han felt like you could live in Baltimore for a year and feel like you’ve exhausted your culinary options. The Hatch is a way to encourage new, exciting restaurants by giving entrepreneurs a relatively risk -free framework to try out their ideas. As Han describes it, it’s an incubator to hatch new businesses.
The idea is to allow restaurateurs to pay for smaller segments of time–usually six to eight weeks– in the Hatch, where they can test their concepts. Han estimates it would take any group around two weeks to really get the menu set and get into the groove which leaves them with four to six weeks to crank into the business side.
To illustrate his theory, Han asks me what my favorite food is. I say lasagna, though I’m not especially fond of it, because, for some reason, the only other food I can think of is salted chocolate. But we go with it, and he asks me to imagine that we open Rebecca’s Lasagna Shop down in this room. I’m dedicated to making the best take-out lasagna, which customers could just put in the oven at home. In the fall and winter months especially, he says, there could be a lot of demand for that. And I either realize that I don’t want to quit my day job to go into business for myself or I discover how to make my shop a success. Either way, I haven’t taken a huge risk.
Han says that he knows that the Hatch will increase Dooby’s competition. But, he says it’s more important to improve Baltimore–even if he loses some business to those he enables. “If we can get a new idea into a new business from here, we feel like we might have accomplished something,” Han says.“What’s cool about Baltimore more than the other cities is that we don’t have that bougie-ness that D.C. does. We’re more supportive of each other. We’re unpretentious. And we’re more accepting of crazy ideas. Not enough crazy ideas are getting out into the marketplace because its so frickin’ expensive and time consuming to do it.”
But that’s enough theorizing. What about the food? At the soft opening, he had brown butter cookies with Ecuadorian chocolate chips, pancetta and Gruyere scone bites, duck fat brioche with butter and jam. After we finished talking Han told us all to take whatever we wanted. I didn’t need further invitation, taking more than half of the remaining cookies “for my roommates.”
Well, I did give them some. I’ve long held that my mother’s chocolate chip cookies are the best cookies I’ve ever had and I’ve eaten a lot of cookies. A lot of cookies. But the cookies at Dooby’s blew my moms’ out of the water (sorry, Mom). They’re chewy and rich, but with a salty kick that pairs well with the dark chocolate chunks, which won several awards, including the London Academy of Chocolate’s Best Bean to Bar Gold Award in 2011. When’s the last time you ate award winning chocolate?