Are you a lifelong “foodie” who always dreamed of having a restaurant?
Actually, I had never had any desire to run a restaurant or to become a chef. After graduating from Towson in 2000, I went into automobile sales. The pay was excellent, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t happy.
So how did you get into the business?
Through my sister, Whitney, who has a culinary background. In 2001 she suggested that we buy The Desert Café, a small Mediterranean-themed restaurant in Baltimore’s Mt. Washington neighborhood. Whitney would be the chef, and I would manage customer service and marketing. The two of us worked together for three years before I became the sole owner.
And during that time you became chef as well?
It’s hard to be in a restaurant that much of the time without wanting to cook. As my skills grew, I stepped into the role. My sister gave my wife, Laurie, and me a springform pan as a wedding gift, and that sparked my interest in baking. So now, in addition to hummus, appetizers and main dishes, I make all of the desserts.
What about that signature flavored hummus?
We make more than 200 flavors, believe it or not, including mimosa, sushi, and peanut butter and jelly. Some people are skeptical at first, but they’re believers once they’ve had a taste.
But The Desert Café is still a family business in some respects?
Absolutely. I have a small staff, but my wife and parents pitch in whenever they can. I appreciate them more than I can say. Nothing compares to having family—you know they’re watching out for your best interests.
How have you grown the business during these difficult times?
Restaurants are really challenging businesses, even in good times. You need quality products, entrepreneurial skill and a good work ethic to survive. In 2005 I established 'The Blakery' solely to promote my desserts. I’m also developing my flavored hummus business by participating in three farmers markets this year. People love it, and sales have been great.
What lies ahead for the Wollmans and The Desert Café?
The family and the business are growing. We recently celebrated the birth of our second daughter, Dodger, and doubled the size of the restaurant’s kitchen so I can make more hummus. I’m focusing on expanding the hummus business with online ordering and distribution at local stores. And I’m always developing fun new hummus flavors such as pad Thai, carrot cake and mojito.
How has your Towson experience factored into your success?
The business knowledge I gained as an undergraduate has been a big factor in my success. With everything I’m doing to expand the business this year, I’m using my marketing skills every single day.