Walk down Wisconsin Avenue, past Compass Coffee, through a blue-framed glass door, and you’ll find yourself in Georgetown’s newest coffee hotspot. On Feb. 14, New York’s beloved café-bakery chain Maman opened the doors to its Georgetown location. The decor is elegant, featuring clean white walls and a high ceiling; yet, it is overwhelmingly homey at the same time.
What immediately drew our attention were the giant childhood portraits lining the walls. Andrea Szot, Maman’s marketing director and our guide through the storefront, told us that they were portraits of the store’s staff members, adding a playful touch to the space. Another unusual decor element was the abundance of bunnies around the restaurant. Szot explained their significance: “Bunnies are a theme at Maman,” she said. “[They] are two of our founders’ favorite childhood symbols.”
Maman was made to resemble a home, and the French origins of one of the founders, Ben Sormonte, are infused throughout the café as well as in the name, which is French for “mother.” Maman reminisces on memories of growing up in the kitchen, baking with our mothers, our grandmothers.
Inspired by founders Sormonte and Elisa Marshall’s respective childhoods in France and Canada, Maman seeks to bridge the differences of these places into a cohesive and authentic experience. Looking at the menu, we were simultaneously confused and intrigued by the perfect manifestation of that ethos: the Georgetown location exclusive “crogel.” Made from croissant dough, baked like a bagel, then topped with cream cheese, dill, pickled onions, and smoked salmon to serve, the crogel brings together the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, it’s rather pricey at $16, and we were unable to try it.
Maman’s unique approach to combining flavors and cultures brought its cookies onto “Oprah’s Favorite Things” list of 2017, and upon trying some, we understood why. In terms of size, the cookies are a good amount: not as hefty as Levain’s, but more satisfactory than Leos’. The dark chocolate latte cookie was nutty, rich, and not too sweet—in other words, heaven on earth. The decadence of the dark chocolate meets the bitterness of the espresso, melding into a treat filled with depth of flavor. The nuttiness cuts the sweetness, making each bite enjoyable.
The raspberry and rose white chocolate chip cookie was the Valentine’s special, and was another hit. Szot said it had been immensely popular in the past, and it’s not hard to see why. The cookie achieves a perfect balance of a crisp outer shell and a soft gooey center. The fragrant rose combines with the tangy raspberry, adding dimension to the white chocolate’s sweetness. The flavor is well-balanced: satisfying, but not overpowering. Perhaps $4.50 was a bit much to spend on a cookie, but what else does one expect from Georgetown?
The drinks boasted similarly creative flavor profiles. The Valentine’s special, a butterfly pea flower and vanilla bean white hot chocolate, was aesthetically pleasing, with a baby blue coloring and cute to-go cup adorned with vintage wallpaper-esque designs of flowers and bunnies. A homemade heart-shaped marshmallow floats on top, making a top-tier “cute café run” picture. Unfortunately, the drink itself was too sweet, and perhaps catered too heavily to the social media aesthetic rather than the flavor itself. White hot chocolate with butterfly pea flower is an interesting combination, but a little overwhelming on the cream & vanilla side. It lacks the richness of a good ol’ cup of hot chocolate, and is a little overpriced for what it is. But hey, all in the name of love.
Their staple honey lavender latte was better, but still difficult to finish. Made with homemade syrup, the lavender imbues the rich espresso with a fragrant freshness while the honey complements the milk’s creaminess. The drink was heavenly on the first sip, but unfortunately the syrup builds on the palate, and as we made our way down the cup, it gradually grew from luscious to sickening. At $5.00 for a medium cup and $5.50 for a large, the latte is relatively reasonable for Georgetown. The drinks were not for us, but that’s not to say it won’t be for you.
With its celebrity endorsement, thoughtful aesthetic, and creative menu, it’s clear why Maman found so much success in New York. When asked why they now wanted to expand to D.C., Szot gave us their “Why Georgetown” essay. “We get people messaging us all the time, emailing us like ‘Hey, went to your store in New York and I think you guys would be a perfect fit in this place.’ We had so many people mentioning D.C. to us over the years,” she said, adding, “There is such a connection between D.C. and New York.”
Indeed, Maman seems to fit effortlessly into Georgetown’s aesthetic with its light-filled rooms, ample amounts of plants, eclectic dishware, and European-style designs. In addition to their Georgetown-specific menu items, Maman also connects to the local area with its decor. By utilizing upcycled pieces sourced from local flea markets, they achieve a vintage vibe while adopting more sustainable practices. For the Georgetown location, Maman also partnered with Shop Made in D.C. which provided a collection of goods catered to the restaurant’s aesthetic.
“The Study” was also created specifically for Georgetown students as a relaxing spot for academic work. Enveloped in natural light and peaceful decor, students can be productive at one of their many long tables. This location also boasts extended hours for those that prefer to study in the evenings. However, there is one major downside: the lack of free Wifi. But if you can bring all your documents pre-downloaded, the café itself is wonderfully adorable and a beautiful place to enjoy.
Like any good Georgetown staple, there was of course a merch display, and at the center was Maman’s 2021 cookbook. Szot flipped it open to talk about some of her favorite recipes: “This is like a compilation of recipes from our founders’ childhoods,” she enthusiastically explained. “[From] a lot of our team members too, like my mom’s salad recipe is in here! Our pastry chef’s grandmother’s rice pudding recipe is in it.”
Their cookbook boasts a series of recipes passed through generations, and their menu draws upon the names of their employees, creating a familial feel among the staff. Their café was made to emulate an intimacy unknown to the abundant sterile-feeling restaurants in New York, one that allows people to “sit and gather.” It was made to be a reprieve in a city of strangers, one that is especially comforting to those not local to the area, such as us college students.
Maman not only creates a physical home in their café, but among their employees and customers, too. The French and North American blend fuse together with the nostalgia of childhood and the new beginnings of a city. Maman builds a community, one far homier than others here in Georgetown.