As Erica Skolnik scouted locations for the bricks-and-mortar incarnation of Frenchie's, her artisan wholesale bakery, she was naturally drawn to H Street NE. She had, after all, developed a loyal following at the FreshFarm Market on that trendy boulevard, where every Saturday customers wait in line for a chance to bite into her crackly, buttery croissants. Some of those same customers even contributed to her Kickstarter campaign.
So it's not surprising that Skolnik selected the neighborhood for her first full-time retail space. What might be surprising, however, is the space she selected: Frenchie's is now a partner in Maketto, the long-awaited project between chef Erik Bruner-Yang of Toki Underground and Will Sharp of the Durkl clothing line. Like Maketto's other notable vendor, Vigilante Coffee, Frenchie's will be assimilated whole into the larger operation: Her counter will not be branded as Frenchie's.
"I thought this would be a really great way to launch a new side of my business, with partners who had already started something that they had been working on for a long time," says Skolnik while sitting at La Colombe, the Blagden Alley coffee shop that sells her pastries. Maketto still has no official opening date; the food-fashion-and-coffee emporium, beset by construction delays, hopes to launch in late summer or early fall.
"So I'd be a part of the daily running of it and really getting involved with it, without starting totally from scratch," Skolnik continues. "And it's in a neighborhood that I already love, even though I don't live there . . . I love it. I just love the people there."
Branded as Frenchie's or not, the bakery will benefit from a move away from its current production facility in Petworth, Healthy Bites. For starters, Skolnik's spot inside Maketto will place her a bit closer to wholesale clients and her market stands, whether the H Street market, La Colombe or the new CityCenter farmers market, where Frenchie's will sell baked goods every Tuesday. But the Maketto partnership will also allow Skolnik to expand her repertoire or just increase the production of items that she previously only dabbled with, like jams and granola.
"Also, being somewhere daily, working and collaborating with chefs and cooks, we can bring in really unique ingredients to work with," Skolnik says. "That's what I'm really looking forward too: the collaboration."
Skolnik's business will complement other tenants under Maketto's roof. The baker expects to make mignardises and "grab-and-go pastries" to pair with cups of Vigilante Coffee on the second floor. She'll also handle the bread program for Bruner-Yang at Maketto, baking loaves for the chef's Cambodian sandwiches. Skolnik even plans to host baking classes at Maketto.
As for missing an opportunity to brand her bricks-and-mortar debut as Frenchie's, Skolnik says she fully embraces the communal, all-for-one/one-for-all attitude of Maketto. Plus, she adds, her farmers market stalls will still promote the name of her bakery.
"It's not even going to be an overly branded place, where it's going to be stamped on your head, 'Don't forget: You're still here!'" Skolnik jokes about Maketto.
What's more, the baker believes her loyal customers will know, whether there's a Frenchie's sign or not, that she has a presence at Maketto. Certainly, those customers who contributed to her Kickstarter campaign, which raised more than $41,000. Some of them will be arriving at Maketto, looking to reap the rewards of their contributions. Like those $10 donors who were promised a chance to arm-wrestle Skolnik.
"Nobody has said anything yet," she says about her future arm-wrestling foes. "I think they're waiting for me to invite them."
She intimates that these combatants should not take her lightly: "I have been rolling croissants by hand for a few years, so . . ."