Restaurateur Nicholas Stefanelli isn’t the only chef who was forced to put his grand plans on the ice during the pandemic—but that doesn’t make it any less agonizing. Stefanelli, who also owns Michelin-starred Masseria near Union Market, was on track to open his third location of Officina when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Like just about everything in the world, Officina’s plans to open came to a screeching halt.
“This was a painful one because we were going for our final inspections on March 18, 2020, when everything got shut down,” Stefanelli says of the opening. “So, this restaurant has been sitting built for months, and we were just trying to figure out when the right time was to bring it back [and open it].”
The new Officina Cafe, which joins its multi-concept Italian emporium of the same name at The Wharf and a smaller market cafe in Georgetown, is situated in The Hub, a 420,000-square-foot office building at 1615 L St. NW. Needless to say, folks returning to the office were essential for it to make sense and open this Officina — named for the Italian word for “workshop.” The right time finally presented itself when people started heading back downtown toward the end of summer, and it looked like things were finally ramping back up after Labor Day.
The weekdays-only restaurant officially opened August 30, serving lunch, with plans to launch breakfast later this fall. Downtown denizens can expect grab-and-go options all day, including coffees, housemade pastries and hot options like an egg sandwich in the morning. Plus, the salads, sandwiches, Roman-style pizzas and desserts for lunch and early dinner, which are already on offer.
But if you’d rather sit a spell and twirl some linguine tossed with garlic, olive oil and spicy pepper flakes (one of Stefanelli’s favorite dishes) or dig into a dish of pillowy meatballs over polenta and bathed with tomato sauce, you can do that too. We recommend a seat on the patio studded with tomato-hued Campari umbrellas, a scene that instantly transports diners back in time to lazy vacation days spent in European cafes — or even the fantasy of those vacations — before we ever learned the word “coronavirus.”
Don’t fret if those patio seats are full. The whole front of the restaurant opens up to connect with the patio, giving diners plenty of fresh air even when seated inside. The space, designed by Grupo7, was intended to channel a similar vibe to the first-floor bar at The Wharf. The decor leans heavily on mid-century modern, and the color scheme features pops of bold gold on the banquettes and a soft blue tile under the bar. The playful wallpaper in the bathrooms depicts several items typically found in the kitchen of any Nonna that’s worth her salt: a box grater, a pizza wheel, a wedge of cheese, slices of pizza and, of course, several shapes of pasta.
“Because of it being in the heart of the center of business, we wanted to create something that was a casual, all-day spin-off of what we are doing at The Wharf,” Stefanelli says. “I really like the way it came out. It’s very bright and fresh and feels great for its location.”
Stefanelli says it’s too soon to say what’s been most popular with guests so far.
“Some days are pastas, some days are salads, some days are sandwiches,” he says. “So it’s interesting to kind of see how things flow.”
Like any good entrepreneur, he’s willing to adapt to whatever it is that guests ultimately need from this location — that includes perhaps staying open later for dinner or opening on weekends if people are clamoring for it.
“The street kind of empties out very fast once people get away from the office, and there’s not a ton of residential that’s around us, so it gets quiets. But, like anything else, once you bring something to life, you want to understand it and make the necessary adjustments.”
Officina is open weekdays from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. To learn more about the restaurant and their menu, visit their website here.
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