Masseria and Officina chef/owner Nicholas Stefanelli did something many would consider counterintuitive – opening a pop-up in the middle of a pandemic. Officina debuted June 10 at Via Umbria (1525 Wisconsin Avenue NW), featuring a mercato, cafe, and trattoria – in addition to a delivery service.
From curated collections of specialty items and ingredients, to picnic kits, an in-house butcher, wine shop, ceramics from Via Umbria, housemade pastries and breads, a traditional Italian espresso bar, and classic Italian dishes available for pickup, delivery, and some seated dining, Officina has already made a splash in Georgetown.
We recently spoke with Chef Nick to learn more about why he made the bold decision to open a pop-up during so much uncertainty, and his hope for the future of Officina.
BID: With restaurants in Downtown DC and The Wharf, what prompted you to open in Georgetown?
NICK: We were originally looking for a permanent space in Georgetown, and talked with [Via Umbria owners] Bill and Suzy Meynard late last year about the upstairs space at Via Umbria. Our search got sidetracked with the holiday season, and then COVID-19 hit. In the Spring, I was driving down Wisconsin Avenue and saw Via Umbria was closed. I called Bill and Suzy, who told me they’d shut down due to the pandemic, and I said let’s do a pop-up. We brought in Officina and that’s how it all got started, and how we opened in the middle of…whatever this is.
BID: Will customers recognize anything from Via Umbria, or is the concept strictly Officina?
NICK: We share similar purveyors, and built off of their dry goods – working with their existing inventory. We still have all of the Via Umbria ceramics for sale, and married our wine collections. But we brought in our restaurant side to round everything out. We had to bring in everything fresh – a butcher shop, cheeses, fresh pasta.
BID: How has COVID-19 effected your operations?
NICK: With COVID-19, it’s like you walk into a blank slate and have no idea what to draw. We’re moving forward and trying to bring people small moments of joy. We’re hoping by mid-August, if not the end of July, we can open the second floor for dining in outdoor space. We’ve also recently opened some casual café seating downstairs, which fits into what we want to see the downstairs space evolve into. Our biggest concern is keeping everyone who comes in safe and comfortable.
BID: Has the pandemic enabled – or perhaps forced – you think outside of the box?
NICK: There’s an ebb and flow that’s been really tough as a business owner, but there’s some more energy on the street right now. We’re using our creativity to push forward and bring more to Georgetown. We’re doing things like picnic basket offering for customers who want to enjoy a meal in the park, and offering pre-batch cocktails to take home.
BID: How do you measure success during such an unprecedented time?
NICK: For us, this has been 100% a success so far, because people are coming in who are happy. Putting a smile on their faces during this time is a success for us.
BID: Do you hope to find a permanent location in Georgetown?
NICK: We’re operating as a pop-up in the Via Umbria space until the end of October. Not knowing what’s going to happen with everything in the world, we decided to give it six months. There’s so much uncertainty and we just want to create moments of joy. But I want to be here long-term. The neighborhood has been great, and our job is to be responsive and understanding to everyone’s needs.
BID: Most importantly – what do you recommend at Officina?
NICK: We have so many new offerings, but the pizza is awesome and the sandwiches are great. Our full menu is available all day, and if we don’t have a specialty item you’re looking for, we’re happy to run it across town from one our other restaurants and bring it to Georgetown.
Officina is currently open Wednesday-Friday, 11am – 8pm; and Saturday-Sunday, 9am – 8pm. Click here to learn more about pickup, delivery, reservations, and menu offerings.