Mt. Airy couple on the unexpected cusp of becoming Germantown restaurateurs

 Desmin and Jania Daniels stand outside what will soon be their restaurant on West Chelten Avenue in Germantown. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

Desmin and Jania Daniels stand outside what will soon be their restaurant on West Chelten Avenue in Germantown. (Alaina Mabaso/for NewsWorks)

The path that led Mt. Airy couple Desmin and Jania Daniels to the verge of opening a new restaurant in Germantown has passed through other careers, neighborhood familiarity and tragedy.

Desmin was born in South Philadelphia and grew up in Mt. Airy; he went shopping weekly with his grandmother on Chelten Avenue.

He met Jania, a Manhattan native, when they both attended Syracuse University. The couple married in 2006, the same year they moved to the Philadelphia area together.

Neither expected to end up in the restaurant business.

Desmin’s degrees are in mechanical engineering, Jania’s 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 enjoyable, “it’s not something I ever would have anticipated doing later in my life,” she said.

Last week, the couple took NewsWorks on a tour of Rose Petals Café and Lounge, their still under-construction restaurant-to-be that will soon open at 322 W. Chelten Ave.

A self-taught chef

Desmin said he’s always loved food, first as a “chubby youngster” enjoying his grandmother’s recipes and then as a “homegrown chef and cook” who discovered the joys of mastering the kitchen.

Jania said Desmin does “95 percent” of the cooking for their family which includes two boys, ages three and five, now living in the family house on Cliveden Street in which Desmin and his mother also grew up.

When the seed of the idea for their own restaurant took root a few years ago, Jania knew that Desmin would be in the kitchen.

“For me, it’s more about the hospitality,” said Jania, who will station herself at the business’ front door.

Jania described herself as a picky eater who puts Desmin’s creations to the 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,” said Desmin, admitting that he doesn’t have official culinary training. “I’m not good with measurements. I do pinches and handfuls, and then I taste.”

Inspiration from grief

The Daniels family might have kept their restaurant dream on the back burner indefinitely, but an unthinkable tragedy helped bring their lives into focus.

“About two years ago, my sister was murdered in Mt. Airy,” Desmin shared.

At 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 instantly.

Then, when Desmin’s beloved grandmother passed away last year, the couple continued to deal with their grief and honor their loved ones’ memory by sharpening their resolve to “make the dream happen now and not later,” with their own business, named for Desmin’s sister.

“Rose Petals” preview

The BYOB café and lounge, which will also feature a small stage for live music just inside the space’s 10×10 foot window, is slated to open July 14.

They’re going to “bring back waffles,” Desmin said proudly, announcing a menu that will include 11 different varieties, both savory and sweet, to be served all day.

Desmin described one of his specialties, a spinach waffle topped with sausage and Gouda cheese.

“My wife … sampled the spinach sausage waffle and I believe she went back for seconds and thirds,” he noted.

On weekdays, Rose Petals Cafe will serve breakfast and lunch.

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.

Community-friendly touches

The couple hopes that the restaurant, with a “chocolate/walnut” color theme and a “rustic modern look” featuring dark hardwood floors and a walnut breakfast and coffee bar, will be a home-like community space, friendly to kids and even the family dog.

(It is almost directly across the street from Wired Beans Cafe, which announced Tuesday that it is closing its doors permantently. Story coming soon on NewsWorks.)

Among the 45-seat restaurant’s amenities will be WiFi and 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 be a safe respite for moms, dads and caretakers in the neighborhood, where a cup of coffee and a croissant can be a chance to relax outside the house for a few minutes 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.”

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