We’re proud to collaborate with some of the best creative minds in our cities. Each of our locations has its own distinct look, personality, community — and we love bringing that energy to life. When it really comes down to it, we’re more than just a food brand — we love music, wellness, design, travel, creativity.
So as we were preparing to open our Dupont Circle location in DC, we knew we wanted to take that passion for local and infuse it directly into our space. We called upon Holley Simmons, one of our favorite DC-area makers, to help us do just that.
Holley is a woman of many passions — and many skills. In addition to serving as the dining editor for Washington Post Express, she also founded Sill Life, a terrarium-crafting venture that showcases her ability to bring personality to even the simplest of succulents. Plus, she’s also one of the founders of The Lemon Bowl, a lively shared work space that hosts an assortment of creative workshops and events aimed at bringing out the creative in all of us. Basically, she’s doing a lot of awesome stuff for the city, and we’re not entirely sure how she manages to keep it all so perfectly on point. So we caught up with her at our Dupont space and learned a little about the woman behind all these amazing ventures. Here’s what she told us:
How did you first start working with plants?
My mom is a seamstress and my grandfather was a carpenter. Growing up, we never really bought anything, so I’ve always had this very DIY mentality. So I went to buy a terrarium about three years ago, and they were just so expensive that I was like, ‘I should try and make this myself.’ So I did a ton of research… ignored everything I read… killed at least 20 terrariums. At that point, I did a little more research and started to actually pay attention to how these things worked. Back when LivingSocial had its 918 F Street space, their team reached out to me and let me know they were looking for someone to teach terrarium classes. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I said yes anyway.
I taught 12 classes of 45 people, and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I worry that I taught a lot of people how to kill a terrarium. I got the hang of it though, and the pursuit just kind of grew from there.
I hadn’t ever really taught anyone before, but I’ve always been a big learner. So I’ll see something and I can reverse engineer it. With the terrarium classes, it felt like no one else was really doing it in the DC market. It felt like I could become ‘the terrarium girl.’
How have your pursuits grown in the past few years?
I still have my full time job, but I’m also still teaching terrarium classes. Last November, I was able to open a studio where I could spill dirt a little more freely. The studio is called The Lemon Bowl, and I share it with two other makers, my friend Linny Giffin who does weaving and fiber art. And then Kathryn Zaremba, who’s an illustrator and works in textiles, wallpaper, that kind of stuff.
My friend purchased the building and told me he was probably going to turn it into a sandwich shop in a few years, but in the meantime he was looking for artists to use the space. And I told him I actually might be interested. Everything kind of fell into place very organically. I’m actually at the point now where I’m starting to turn things down, which is a really good feeling. When you start a business and reach the point when you can say no, it feels really good.
That’s why I liked working with CAVA so much — I liked having the chance to choose a company with such a like-minded ethos. I seek out anything that challenges me or pushes me to try something different.
And, honestly, the plants do most of the work, I just know how to keep them alive. I spend 80% of my day asking, ‘Can I put a succulent in that?’
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever put a succulent in?
I found this vintage Easy-Bake Oven, and it had this little hot pot. It was probably from the ‘60s; the thing would have lit up in flames if you plugged it in. But it did have a plug and a hot pot where you put fake little trays, so I carved that out and put a cactus in it.
So how did you start working with CAVA?
I was at Union Market teaching a terrarium class and I met CAVA’s Experience Design Manager. She let me know that CAVA was looking for someone to partner with and sent over a proposal. So I put together some ideas. It was scary because this was my first big job for something I feel so strongly and positively about — I didn’t want to mess it up.
The tricky thing is, succulents aren’t native to the East Coast. They’re really resilient but really finicky. So I chose to add some snake plants to the mix, because they’re impossible to kill and really cool looking. I love that the nickname for them is mother-in-law’s tongue. I knew they would make a pretty good impact against the white walls in the Dupont space.
The ultimate dream is to do this for more restaurants, because I think that fuses my loves perfectly — design, food, and atmosphere. Plants bring people such happiness — especially when they stay alive!
What is a typical day for you?
By the time people see me at work [at Express], I’ve probably spent $50 on Uber, easily. I’ll get up at 6am, go to the floral wholesaler, drop off some plants, cab over to The Lemon Bowl, run over to therapy, run back to The Lemon Bowl, then do some actual writing work. It’s a lot of running around but writing is pretty peaceful. I’m learning about using my mind versus using my hands. It’s two totally different things, but it’s nice that I get to do both.
What’s next for The Lemon Bowl?
When we first got this space we didn’t know what to do. The three of us were working out of our houses, so we just thought the location would serve as extra space — but then slowly the idea evolved to invite other people to teach classes and lead workshops.
This city has been so welcoming. People tell us all the time, ‘I’ve been looking for something like this,’ or, ‘Why didn’t this exist already?’ And there are tons of people doing creative things — there’s just no real hub for it. I think all three of us probably have different plans for it. I kind of want to continue to grow it.
That’s what I love about DC, really: It’s so easy to know everybody. You feel like you have total access to anybody, and if someone has a cool job, you’ll know at least one or two people who know them and can connect you. It’s just really small and well connected.
It’s also really fun to help change the city and feel more of an impact.
A terrarium! If you’re friends with me, you’re getting a terrarium. I’ve been wanting to get into herb terrariums. My friends know me well enough not to ask me to cook them anything. I can’t cook.
So how did you get into food?
I started at Express in lifestyle reporting — local fashion, interior design. But then our dining editor was leaving, and I figured there’s more going on in food than fashion in DC. So I walked into that office and said I want to write about food instead. I’ve actually been writing about food for a long time. Back when I was interning at NPR, I was also interning at DailyCandy.
What is something that not many people know about you?
Ok, here’s a good one: I broke my jaw getting my bellybutton pierced. In high school, I talked my parents into letting me get it pierced if I got straight A’s. My mom went out of town, and it was just my dad, so I was like, ‘Dad, this is the perfect time, let’s do it, Mom’s not here.’ So he took me to the tattoo parlor, and got it pierced. But then I stood up really quickly, and the guy showed me the needle and explained to me what he had done. It was a hollow needle. I passed out and there was no one there to catch me. So I fell on my face and cracked my jaw open. They rushed me to the hospital. I broke my jaw and had to have it wired shut for four weeks. Because i had gotten straight A’s, I was invited to the Honor Roll breakfast and I couldn’t eat anything. Free food for a high schooler was the ultimate treat. I couldn’t even drink the orange juice because it had pulp in it. I wrote my college application essay about that experience actually.
What’s your go-to Cava order?
It has to be the lamb meatballs, and I mix it with veggies or chicken, and then Crazy Feta of course. I also love the supergreens, and that’s about all I can commit to. I allow a little flexibility with everything else depending on what I feel like.