Food & Drink

Breathe Books in Hampden opening health-food cafe

Breathe Books in Hampden says it will add a health-food cafe to its store next month. Owner Susan Weis-Bohlen says all the offerings will have at least one of five features: gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, raw or Ayurvedic -- Ayurveda is a holistic type of medicine that originated in India. This goes along with the store's stated mission to provide "books, music, and spiritual and inspirational items to help people continue their practice and journey."

"We will not be using white flour or white sugar; every ingredient will have some sort of nutritional quality," said Weis-Bohlen, who also lectures about Ayurvedic medicine at the University of Maryland's medical school. "So we'll use dates instead of white sugar -- or agave or maple syrup or honey; things that have vitamins and minerals."

Weis-Bohlen, who opened the bookstore at the corner of Chestnut and 36th Street nine years ago, said she's almost as excited about her sources of funding as she is about the food. She was able to avoid getting a loan from a bank and instead raised $150,000 through loans and investments from friends and customers. She's using the money to build a commercial kitchen in the 1880s-era building and set up tables in the bookstore and on the second floor, as well as build a coffee bar on the wrap-around porch.


"The people who invested said, 'Yes, we need something like this in the community,'" she said. "And for me that's the really exciting part of this."

One of those lenders is Winstead "Ted" Rouse, founder of Big City Farms and son of the late developer James Rouse.


"I'm very enthusiastic about the food they plan to make and I don't think there's anything quite like it in Baltimore," Rouse said. "I love helping locally owned businesses because they're so much more likely to recirculate our dollars in our cities and our charities. It's very much a triple-bottom-line business -- people, planet, profit."

Bill Clarke, who sits on the boards of the Open Society Institute and public radio station WYPR, is another lender.

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"I've been a customer in her book store and I've invested in Baltimore previously and this seems like it has very good potential for the redevelopment of Baltimore as we look for opportunities to bring businesses back into Baltimore and people back into Baltimore and make it stronger," he said. "George Soros is investing $70 million in Baltimore [through OSI] and that kind of thing needs to be done to turn a city around and help it thrive. My zeros are many less than his but it's the same concept."

The staff will include Renee and Don Gorman, who ran the now-closed health-food restaurant Puffins in Pikesville and who currently have a popular food stand at the Waverly farmers' market, and pastry chef Joanne Goshen, formerly of the old Louie's Bookstore Cafe.

"These are people who have lived this lifestyle for decades already," Weis-Bohlen said. "This is not a fad, this is their passion."

Hampden business owners said they're happy to see the bookstore expand its offerings.

"I'm thrilled that Breathe Books is expanding and diversifying, I think it makes a lot of sense and it's a good fit," said Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association. "I know that the 800 block [of The Avenue] has long felt like it's needed more dining options, and this is definitely a step toward satisfying that need."

Weis-Bohlen said she plans to open in mid-May.