by Alaina Mabaso
Desmin and Jania Daniels, a Mt. Airy couple getting ready to open Germantown’s newest restaurant, have found inspiration in the joys and grief of family life Desmin, 32, was born in South Philadelphia and grew up in Mt. Airy, shopping with this grandmother every week on Chelten Avenue. He met Jania, 31, a Manhattan native, when they were both attending Syracuse University, and the couple married in 2006, the same year they moved to the Philadelphia area together.
Neither of them expected to end up in the restaurant business. Desmin studied mechanical engineering, while Jania’s degrees are in human services and education. For the last several years, they’ve both worked as teachers, though Jania had a stint managing a food court restaurant. While she enjoyed it, “It’s not something I ever would have anticipated doing later in my life,” she said.
Rose Petals Café and Lounge is now under construction at 322 W. Chelten Ave. and the owners expect to open in late July.
As a child, Desmin said he was a “chubby youngster” who enjoyed his grandmother’s recipes, growing up to be a “homegrown chef and cook.” Jania said Desmin does most of the cooking for their family, which includes two boys, ages three and five, now living in the family house on Cliveden Street that Desmin and his mother also grew up in.
As long as they’ve been talking about opening a restaurant, Jania knew that while Desmin would be in the kitchen, “For me it’s more about the hospitality.” When their café opens, she’ll be out front.
Jania described herself as a picky eater who puts Desmin’s dishes to the ultimate test. “We’re trying to learn how to write down his recipes,” she said of developing the Rose Petals menu.
“It’s one of the things I’m not very good at,” Desmin admitted. Since he doesn’t have official culinary training, “I’m not good with measurements. I do pinches and handfuls, and then I taste.”
The Daniels family might have kept their restaurant dream on the back burner indefinitely, but an unthinkable tragedy made them realize it was time to live life to the fullest. “About two years ago, my sister was murdered in Mt. Airy,” Desmin shared. At just 27 years old, she left behind two young children. Her nickname was Rose.
“Her death was one of the things that gave us a kick in the pants on moving on this idea,” he said of realizing how life can change in an instant. Then, when Desmin’s beloved grandmother passed away last year, the couple decided to honor their loved ones’ memory by “mak[ing] the dream happen now and not later,” naming their business for Desmin’s sister.
The BYOB café and lounge will also feature WIFI and a small stage for live music just inside the space’s 10×10-foot window. For the neighborhood, the timing is perfect, given the recent closing of the Chelten Avenue location of Wired Beans, the coffee shop and community venue right across the road.
And the menu? It’ll “bring back waffles,” Desmin said proudly, announcing a line-up that will include 11 different waffle varieties, both savory and sweet, to be served all day. With multiple waffle-makers at home, Desmin can wax lyrical about the different qualities of his favorite treat. While he does admit that occasional duds have gone to the family’s Rhodesian Ridgeback, he’s become a waffle aficionado.
Desmin described one of his specialties, a spinach waffle topped with sausage and Gouda cheese. But what did Jania think of it? “I believe she went back for seconds and thirds,” he said.
On weekdays, Rose Petals Cafe will serve breakfast and lunch, and on Fridays and Saturdays, they’ll become the Lounge, open for live music and a special Latin/soul fusion dinner menu that celebrates the blend of Puerto Rican and African-American cultures in their marriage.
While the full menu is still under wraps, they promise tacos, sweet fried plantains, an “elegant play” on deli sandwiches, fried chicken and catfish, and of course, waffles. They’re also planning a few vegetarian and gluten-free options, based on neighborhood requests.
The couple hopes that the restaurant, with dark hard wood floors and a walnut breakfast and coffee bar, will be a home-like community space, friendly to kids and even the family dog.
Among the 45-seat restaurant’s amenities will be a special room with large glass windows where kids ages 2-6 can draw on a chalkboard wall and do puzzles and other activities. As parents of young children themselves, Jania and Desmin hope this will give customers a chance to relax for a few moments with a cup of coffee and a croissant while the kids play.
In the future, the couple wants to develop the spacious backyard into additional seating and even a tiny dog park for four-legged guests. “Community-building is something that’s in our core,” Desmin said of choosing to open Rose Petals on Chelten Avenue. “We are excited to be in Germantown because it’s one of those communities where there’s a lot of activism and a lot of excitement about what’s to come.”