On a sunny Wednesday in May the Carlos Rosario School communications team walked into the Baronessa Italian restaurant located in a strip mall in Rockville for an unusual and tasty field trip. Looking around, it seems like your typical suburban Italian place, you wouldn’t guess the restaurant recently earned a certification of excellence from TripAdvisor or that they are making 100+ plates of lasagna and almost twice as many pizzas a week.

But it’s true, and what’s more this restaurant is becoming a destination eatery, somewhere diners seek out for its homemade pasta and sauces and its affordability. But for us this place is extra special, Baronessa is co-owned by Carlos Rosario School ESL, GED and culinary arts graduate Angel Mendoza and his former ESL teacher, Marcel Jares.  

The first stop on our visit was to the kitchen to see Executive Chef Angel in front of the wood burning oven. We watched as he built us the restaurant’s most popular pizza: a mix of spicy sausage, fresh mozzarella and red sauce. And he threw in Brussels sprouts with cilantro, the biggest selling appetizer.

As Angel skillfully prepared the food, Marcel shared the restaurant’s story. Marcel was Angel’s ESL teacher in 2005. The two stayed in touch over the years as Angel built his reputation as a master in the kitchen. He worked for 10 years at 2 Amys starting as a dishwasher and working his way up. He went on to help open three RedRocks locations throughout the D.C. area. But in 2016 when Marcel came to Angel about the idea of selling his homemade bread, Angel countered with “let’s open a restaurant.”

And so they did. As with most restaurants, things started off slowly. But became profitable in four months. The two are talking about expanding into the storefront next door and thinking about opening a second restaurant in D.C.

Having started as a dishwasher and working his way up in the kitchen, Angel said the Carlos Rosario School culinary arts program helped him understand the theory behind the practice. And today Angel is helping culinary students in the program gain that crucial hands-on practice in his kitchen. The restaurant currently employs four Carlos Rosario students and graduates, including Angel’s own brother. Listening to this culinary arts graduate, it’s clear he’s a strong manager and a leader in the kitchen. He talked at length about investing in employees and helping them think beyond today.

At this point Angel sees that we’ve devoured the pizza and the Brussels sprouts (some of the best I’ve ever had). He disappears into the kitchen to make the restaurant’s most popular pasta dish, a smoky pepper-flavored pasta with sausage, green peppers, and onions covered in a sauce that makes you want for a basket of sopping bread. The three of us devoured that plate too and with full stomachs we left the restaurant promising to return with friends and family.

The impact that the Carlos Rosario School has had on these two entrepreneurs — a former ESL teacher and a talented culinary arts program graduate– is so real we could even taste it!