The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Philly’s Federal Donuts scouts D.C. locations, prepares to open philanthropic restaurant

Placeholder while article actions load

Three partners with Federal Donuts spent Tuesday scouting locations for a Washington outlet of the small Philadelphia chain known for its fried chicken, doughnuts and the daily angst of customers who don't arrive early enough to secure either. The owners toured spots in Georgetown, near the 9:30 Club and on the 14th Street corridor.

If they preferred a spot, they were not immediately saying -- probably a smart move in a hungry real-estate market looking to hook a big out-of-town fish.

"Georgetown is very swanky for us," says Felicia D'Ambrosio, co-founder of the relaxed chicken-doughnut-coffee concept, whose ownership also includes Steve Cook and James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav.

"The retail [space] that we were on was much fancier than any other neighborhood we're located in right now," D'Ambrosio continues. "I mean, it was a beautiful and lovely space, but I was kind of like, 'I don't know if this is our customer.' "

Nor does the crew behind FedNuts — their informal handle — want to land in some nightlife district, like the U Street corridor, where the fry cooks would have to keep the oil bubbling well into the early morning hours.

"I don't know if that's right for us," D'Ambrosio says. "We're more daytime. We haven't done a latenight yet."

FedNuts had an eye on a property in Blagden Alley, D'Ambrosio notes, but La Colombe beat them to the space. "We wanted that space," she adds even though it "doesn't really have the daytime traffic we're looking for as it's all residential."

If the property-hunting business is progressing slowly in Washington, the FedNuts partners are moving full steam ahead on a unique project back in Philadelphia, where they have partnered with the Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative to help feed the hungry.

Federal Donuts and Broad Street are working toward the debut of Rooster Soup Co., where cooks will take leftover chicken bones from FedNuts (1,000 pounds weekly, all from naturally raised birds) and turn them into soups. (And, yes, Rooster plans to have a veg option, too, so chill.)

Rooster Soup Co. is now in the process of raising money through a Kickstarter campaign, looking to generate $150,000 in start-up costs to cover building renovations, fixtures, fees and the thousands of other things necessary to open a restaurant. As of Thursday, the partners had raised $27,000-plus toward their goal.

"It's going to operate just like any of our restaurants," says D'Ambrosio, referring to CookNSolo, the company behind Federal Donuts, Zahav and other Philly restaurants. D'Ambrosio serves as director of communications for CookNSolo.

"We're going to hire the best people we can get," she adds, "and make it a really nice and inviting place that people want to return to. It's not going to be a shoestring type operation."

The idea is to create a soup operation every bit as idiosyncratic as Federal Donuts, which has developed a loyal following in Philadelphia. Those loyal customers will then help generate money for more than 1,000 hungry Philadelphians who arrive weekly at Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative, looking for something to eat. All profits from Rooster Soup will be directed toward the charity, which D'Ambrosio estimates will be $50,000 in the first year, enough to supply more than 24,000 meals.

Broad Street captured the attention of CookNSolo's Cook, who now serves on the charity's board. The organization's model is unlike many, D'Ambrosio says. Broad Street doesn't make the hungry and homeless wait in line for a few morsels. The group invites them into its space, seats them at tables covered with tablecloths and serves them food with real china and silverware. While the clients wait on their food, Broad Street tries to assess if they need any other social service available at the charity.

"It's just a much more dignified way of serving people, and it really helps build a community," D'Ambrosio says.

The need for such an organization is huge in Philadelphia, she says.

"We're in the hungriest Congressional district in America. The poverty has skyrocketed compared to other places in the country, so the need at Broad Street is bottomless," D'Ambrosio says.

If successful, Rooster Soup could be replicated in other cities, including Washington. "We would obviously want to find another local nonprofit partner that was doing something on the ground and spending all their money on their mission and not directorships and overhead and all that stuff," D'Ambrosio says.