Café Bonaparte: at home In Georgetown

Photo by Cafe Bonaparte
Cafe Bonaparte in Georgeotwn
Cafe Bonaparte in Georgeotwn

In July 2003, the Popal family launched Café Bonaparte, one of Washington’s most popular and beloved Parisian coffeeshop/creperies and the first of their two successful French-themed restaurants in the nation’s capital.   The Café was the brainchild of siblings Omar, Mustafa, and Fatima Popal, who sought to bring a bit of Paris to the their newfound home in America.

(Photo by: Cafe Bonaparte)

The irony of the story is that the Popal family has no roots in France.  In fact, they like to joke that they are from “slightly east of Paris … Kabul, Afghanistan to be exact!”  Like their Afghan ancestors, the family has demonstrated a keen entrepreneurial spirit that has fostered many successful businesses across different continents.  The family immigrated to the United States in 1987, fleeing the horrors of war in Afghanistan and a life of increased uncertainty in the Middle East (the images of today’s events are stark reminders.)  Like many Afghans arriving in the United States, they settled in Northern Virginia, home to the largest Afghan-American community in America.  Zubair Popal, the head of the clan, was in the hotel industry for over 15 years, helping to launch and manage several Inter-Continental Hotels in Asia and the Middle East.  He, perhaps, can be credited for planting the seeds of hospitality in the family.

Bonaparte’s creation and launch represent true entrepreneurial spirit and the American dream where hard work, dedication, and creativity continue to pay off for the Popal family.  One day, the family paid a visit to a property for lease at 1522 Wisconsin Avenue and fell in love with the quaint spot and its very European exterior.  They went to work converting the space into the charming Parisian café that we see today, always bustling with visitors from near and far.  Bonaparte’s delicious (and now famous) crepes continue to be the main draw for thousands of visitors who have ventured into its cozy interior.  The diverse clientele represent a snapshot of Washington’s cosmopolitan identity and have also included some famous faces like Robert Duvall, Helen Mirren, Rachel MacAdams, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jane Seymour, Paula Abdul, Mrs. Biden, Senator Al Franken, and others. 

(Photo by: Cafe Bonaperte)

On any given day, you can walk in and find the place buzzing with conversation and energy.  The cozy interior whisks you to Paris (confirmed by visiting Parisians nonetheless!)  and the delightful menu reads like a travel book with crepes named after many popular European destinations.  The café’s most popular table is “number 2” situated at the very front facing the large window looking out on Wisconsin Avenue---the perfect spot for people watching on a busy weekend.   The vibrant interior colors are a wonderful contrast to the black wooden furniture that play off one another in warmth and intimacy (24” tables are truly European!).

In addition to its extensive and popular crepe menu, Bonaparte also features award-winning espressos and coffees (voted “best espresso” in DC in 2006) and a full dinner menu of classic bistro fare.  Weekend brunches are the busiest for the café as crowds can often be seen spilling onto the sidewalks under the inviting red awning.

(Photo by: Cafe Bonaperte)

Like a true family business, the Popal family remains intimately involved with the operations after nearly eight years.  Shamim Popal, the matriarch, is the quality control queen of the operation and ensures that every dish and recipe is up to standard.  Zubair Popal handles the finances and keeps the ship heading in the right direction.  Omar and Fatima run the operation, working to ensure that the service and ambiance are in harmony.  Their older brother, Mustafa, when not traveling the world on his day-job, lends a helping hand (usually by naming menu items or tinkering with the music!). 

Bonaparte’s success story is a validation of the American Dream for one very dedicated and talented immigrant family who have laid down roots in the city they love and call home.   Plans are underway for future expansions (the family opened Bonaparte’s sister bistro in Adams Morgan, Napoleon, in 2007).  But for now, they eagerly await the arrival one day (fingers crossed) of President Obama and the first family, who we’re told have a sweet tooth and a love of Nutella chocolate! 

Cafe Bonaparte is at 1522 Wisconsin Avenue. Tel: 202.338.8830

0 Comments For This Article

Alix Sundquist

We celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary here on March 1 and had a wonderful time...loved the food, service, and atmosphere. Having lived in France for seven years and as founder of a business specializing in Napoleonic-inspired fashions (www.swanways.com, I can attest that Cafe Bonaparte lives up to its name. Bravo, siblings Popal!

M. Atif

A great place to spend your and our greatest time -