Whisked away to Italy by love 18 years ago, Bridget Thibodeau Sasso returned to Washington with a piece of Italy she has now established on Capitol Hill — her Italian market Radici at 303 Seventh St. SE.
While on vacation in the Bahamas, Sasso fell in love with an Italian man, whom she corresponded with through letters and eventually married. When she later moved to Italy to begin a life with Enrico Sasso, she also opened her own Italian food export business. After 13 years there, she returned to the United States, where she opened an import business in Vienna, Va. Both have since been sold to family members.
Now, she adds to the supply chain by owning an eatery that will receive many of those imports.
Radici is a slow-food concept Italian eatery and market. The slow-food movement traces back to Italy “where they planted their own crops and raised their own hens,” Sasso explained, adding, “everything is as natural as it possibly can be.” To stay true to her motto, Sasso sources most things locally and works with producers in D.C.’s Union Kitchen. Similar measures are taken to ensure that all the specialty Italian imports come from small producers as well — many of whom Sasso said she has personal relationships with.
Sasso and her business partner Phil Friedman, owner of chain restaurant Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina, have been purposeful about location, décor, products, food and events in an effort to provide not just a place to eat but an experience, with community building in mind. When it comes to décor, Sasso had terra-cotta tiles imported from the oldest terra cotta manufacturer in Italy, Manetti Gusmano & Figili, supplier of the tiles used on “il Duomo,” Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence. One also can’t help but notice the beautiful hand-blown Venetian glass light fixtures that hang over the counter.
They don’t want to just sell food. “We want to sell a culture and a way of life. Of eating well,” she said.
Radici offers a variety of Italian imported products, such as wines, olive oils, tomato sauces, prepared meals, fresh pastas, mozzarella, and even linens and ceramics. With communal tables inside and seating on their patio, customers can sit down and enjoy wine by the glass (bottles range in price from $11 to $75), along with small plates cooked up by Italian chef Daniele Bolognesi. "New and exciting products [are] coming out of our kitchen every day,” Sasso said.
In addition to Italian meals, Radici also serves fresh Italian pastries, desserts such as tiramisu, cannoli and panatone. And coffee, of course. On their counter, one can’t help but notice what Sasso describes as her “Rolls-Royce” espresso machine serving up Illy Café.
Sasso and Friedman picked their bustling location, the former venue of Marvelous Market and Silver Spork, because it embraced the European concept. It's “a neighborhood where you see people walking around and going to the fresh market,” as Sasso put it.
With such a central location, they’re excited to host a slew of events: wine tastings, cooking classes, cook-offs and “Mommy and Me” days, where kids can come in to make pizza dough and learn a few Italian words.
Sasso is especially excited to offer cooking classes. “We want people to come in and learn how to make a really good Italian pasta sauce from scratch,” she said. In addition, they plan to focus on different regions of Italy throughout the year by serving foods, products, and events related to the select region.
For Christmas, Sasso will offer gift baskets assembled with various Italian treats. Last month, Sasso was happy to be able to showcase a Thanksgiving menu, with fresh, free-range turkey breasts and sides. Thanksgiving was the one holiday that reminded her of home while she lived in Italy.
“It’s an important holiday to me. No gift giving. It’s just about getting together and eating and drinking well,” she said.
Even the name — Radici means "roots" in Italian — ties to Sasso's philosophy for operation. “I chose it because Italians refer to 'radici' to describe so much. They talk about going home to their roots, that the meals they eat are from their roots, the roots of the vines, that from the roots all things prosper” she says. And true to the name, Radici hopes to build roots and create community in Eastern Market.
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