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Fossette Focacceria Opens in Washington, DC

Chef Mike Friedman tells Appetito about his newest concept, Fossette, the just-opened sandwich shop next to his original All-Purpose Pizza in DC’s Shaw neighborhood.

Sandwiches at Fossette in DC

Sandwiches from Mike Friedman’s latest Washington DC-area opening, Fossette Focacceria.

Fossette Focacceria may have the cutest backstory of any Italian sandwich shop on the planet. Owner and chef Mike Friedman’s two young daughters like to help make bread at home, especially when it comes to adding the small impressions, or dimples, to focaccia. When it came time to open his latest DC-area concept, he came up with the idea of a sandwich shop and market; for the name, he chose “Fossette,” which means dimples in Italian. 

In an interview on the eve of Fossette’s opening last week, Friedman tells Appetito that the name is indeed a nod to his daughters, but the idea for the shop has a more practical story. A bakery and café adjacent to his first restaurant, All-Purpose Pizza in DC’s Shaw neighborhood, was closing, so Friedman’s own operation, which shared below-ground space with the bakery and café, needed to take on the lease and create a new concept.

Chef Mike Friedman
Mike Friedman. Photo: Scott Suchman

“We took the space as a defensive move to keep the basement kitchen and our offices and our prep areas,” Friedman says, adding that the location also played a part in the decision. “We had this great café idea, and in downtown Northwest (D.C.), it’s hard to find an address like that with great visibility, so we started brainstorming…. We kept coming back to sandwiches.”

Italian sandwich shops are one of the hotter concepts in the fast-casual market right now. The Florence-born All’Antico Vinaio chain, whose expansion into the U.S. is backed by Joe Bastianich, opened its fifth Manhattan location in just two years last week. Old-school Italian delis and sandwich shops across the U.S. are regularly highlighted by influencers on social media and even in The New York Times, which recently published a guide to 57 sandwiches that define New York, including entries from Defonte’s in Brooklyn; Regina’s Grocery, which has three locations; Fiacco’s Italian Specialties in the West Village; the pizzeria Mamma’s Too!; Casa Della Mozzarella in the Bronx; and others specializing in Italian sandwiches.

Friedman, who grew up Jewish in an Italian-American community in New Jersey, says that he was motivated more by nostalgia than trends for Fossette. “My first job in the industry was slinging sandwiches in Jersey at a classic Italian deli, Duke’s Deli in Westfield, NJ,” he says, adding that he worked behind the counter from ages 15 to 17.

After culinary school and subsequent travels, as well as stages and jobs at restaurants in D.C. and Philadelphia, Friedman became an up-and-coming chef and entrepreneur with the Red Hen, opened in 2014 with a menu of seasonal, Italian-influenced dishes. Two years later, he opened All-Purpose Shaw, which now shares space with Fossette, and then another location of the pizza and pasta concept on the waterfront in Anacostia. Last year, he debuted the upscale Italian restaurant concept Aventino, with an AP Pizza Shop adjoining it, in the close-in suburb of Bethesda. 

sandwich and chips

For Fossette, Friedman says he took a familiar approach to developing his idea. Acknowledging that sandwich shops are all the rage, he says, “A lot of people take the same angle of doing subs or hoagies, so we wanted to do something different. When Red Hen opened up, everybody was doing fresh pasta. So I did dried, extruded pasta made in-house. When we opened AP, everybody was on the Neapolitan pizza craze, even nationally, so I did deck oven pizza.

“Instead of doing hoagies, I really love the explosion of these great Tuscan schiacciata sandwiches popping up,” he says, mentioning the flatter-style bread that is used at All’Antico Vinaio and in Italy.

Rather than copy the formula, Friedman and his team did some R&D. “We’ve made focaccia in all the restaurants and run them as specials or they become bread service for a dip,” he says, alluding to one of his signatures, offering different-flavored housemade dips, called “Dippies,” with bread or even pizza. “I wanted to explore how to morph schiacciata, the Tuscan-style flatbread that’s a bit denser and doesn’t have as much flavor, and marry it with the idea of focaccia, which is a bit lighter, with more olive oil, and crispier. I created this dough over the last couple of months and practiced it, and am continuing to perfect it, but it’s a great, light bread.” The bread is a centerpiece at Fossette, the vehicle for tomatoes, mozzarella, cured meats, and more. “It’s a square sandwich, and it’s stuffed with all these amazing Italian ingredients.”

While the sandwich shop is the hook, Fossette will start out as a sort of all-day café and market, open Wednesday-Sunday from 8am to 3pm, with coffee, pastries, and a couple of breakfast sandwiches before the lunchtime offerings kick in. Friedman says that he’d like to extend the marketplace items for sale to eventually include his own jarred sauces and dips, as well as “these great imported products on the shelves of Fossette. Great pasta from Mancini in Le Marche, amazing jams from Abruzzo, olive oils from Lazio and Sicily, cookies from Tuscany. My dream is that you can come in and package up these different baskets and create your own meal for that evening” at home. Eventually, Fossette may even offer pre-made dinners for take-away. 

It sounds like it should be a winning concept, and while it was perhaps unfair to ask if he has bigger plans for Fossette within hours of its official opening, Friedman had this to say: “I'll tell you right now with my sixth location opening up, my fourth concept and my third opening in a year, I have no inklings of opening anything too quickly for the rest of the year, or even the next 18 months, because it's a big load to handle. I've got 230 employees to look over, and that's an amazing number for a guy like me, who was kind of young enough and dumb enough to sign a lease of my own in 2012 with Red Hen.”

He’d love for Fossette to take off and inspire him to open more locations, he says, “But if it doesn't, a standalone brick and mortar would be phenomenal to be able to have as a cornerstone in the community to serve espresso, some sweet things in the morning, and then great sandwiches throughout the day.”

1250 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001, @fossettefocacceria,

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