Nicole on the Last Remnants of Italian Life on North Capitol Street (by Danny Harris)


Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

“I was born in France and came to the United States in 1960. I came because I had a sister in North Carolina who suffered a tragic accident. I ended up in Washington because I had a friend here. Thirty years ago, my husband and I bought the Catania Bakery. Neither my husband nor I were bakers, but Grace Caruso, the former owner, taught me everything I know. For the last thirty years, we kept the place just as they did. We still make Italian breads using Grace’s recipes and deliver them to restaurants around the District, Maryland and Virginia.

“Back in 1932 when the Catania Bakery opened, there were Italian stores all along North Capitol Street. This was an Italian neighborhood. The Carusos used a wood burning over and delivered traditional Italian breads door-to-door. Most of the community here was from Southern Italy so it was the bread they knew from home. The Caruso family came from Nicolosi, which was at the base of Mt. Etna. Catania, the name of this bakery, is the name of the province in Sicily where Nicolosi is. You know the Italians, they can’t live without their bread so this place was a staple of the neighborhood. Now, most of the Italians are no longer here, they either died or went down south, but a few of them are still around. This bakery is the last remnant of Italian life on North Capitol Street. The Italians living around here and coming by are mostly older people. The newer Italian generation is more Americanized, but they will still come in on holidays to get some of our bread because they grew up eating at this bakery. We also do events with the Knights of Columbus, the Holy Rosary, Catholic Churches, and we used to do the bread for the big Italian convention in DC.

“The neighborhood started changing after World War II and becoming less Italian. Due to a number of reasons, the neighborhood really got bad. When we first bought the place in the late 1970’s, I never came at night because the neighborhood was so dangerous. It got better, but it is still a very dangerous place. We have children, but they are not involved with the bakery. Because of this area, my husband was not keen on having our children or grandchildren come here. We’ve had a number of robberies, some of them were big time robberies. My granddaughter used to come down and spend Saturday’s here with me ever since she was three-years-old. But, she was here during a robbery and her parents wouldn’t let her come down anymore. Now, I am here by myself. Danger is still here. But, we have been here for a long time and will stay. We are resilient. The neighborhood is getting better, but that doesn’t mean the bad elements are gone. At night, you wouldn’t want to walk around by yourself, but, the neighborhood is slowly changing with new families. Because of that, on Saturday’s, I started making and selling croissants out of the bakery. That is my French addition to this old place. Otherwise, it is and will remain Italian. You know, after all of this time here, I feel more Italian than French!”

Catania Bakery is located at 1404 North Capitol Street NW.

18 Comment

  • Wow, I had no idea that was there, I will definitely check it out.

    Anyone been there and have any suggestions?

  • sounds like a wonderful bakery. unfortunate that she has to feel so unsafe in the neighborhood.

  • It is awesome and the owner is lovely – arrive before 10 am on Saturdays for good selection and bring cash (esp. small change). I highly recommend the croissants and biscotti… the bakery is a bit tricky to find but it’s on the west side of N. Capitol.

  • i think it would help if you worked on the typeface for the body text here, sir. the intro graf for these republished people’s district pieces used to be in a different font, but it’s no longer the case. the new sans serif font you’re using isn’t nearly as legible as what you were using before either.

  • My realtor pointed this place out while we were driving around. It’s a real gem.

  • I have never been to the bakery but I’ve had the bread.
    I believe they supply Litteri’s and other places.
    It’s been a little while but I recall that Catania’s bread is as good as any bread from New York (I am a born and bred New Yorker, from the Italian section of the Bronx)
    I can’t tell you how pleased I am to know that they still exist.
    Whenever I drove by on N. Capitol St. over the past 35 years I’ve lived in DC I have always been amazed that the sign was still there–it hardly looks like it’s in business as you drive by.
    N.B. My Italian teacher at the junior high school I went to (Niles, JHS 118, on 179th St. & La Fontaine Ave.) was from Washington, DC so I knew DC had an Italian community back then.
    Thanks and Auguri Catania!

  • I have to laugh at the above “too bad she has to feel unsafe” comment – it’s because it is unsafe. Just run the address through the MPD crime map:
    17 armed robberies, 19 ‘other’ robberies, 33 stolen cars and 2 arsons within 1000′ of the establishment in the past year.

  • @ontarioroader
    yes, i know.

  • The link to People’s District is wrong. Here it is:

  • The croissants on Saturday are amazing. I wish Big Bear would switch to them for all their stuff. As for the stolen cars. I think most of that may be cars w/ MD plates that end up being dumped in the neighborhood. I’ve had two towed out from behind my house.

  • nope, the address a stolen car report carries is for the location the car was last seen, not where it was recovered.

  • Love the chocolate croissants!

  • I thought this was place was closed. My aunt told me about this place and how she used to go there about 50 years ago! so is it open? when is it open? everytime I go by there it is closed.

  • They only do retail on Saturdays, otherwise it’s all commercial delivery if I remember correctly.

  • A few years ago they announced the possibility of being open for retail more, but then had another robbery. I think employees got beaten up.

    They have great bread and fruit tarts. It’s a shame there is so much crime right there. I often walk by there, mostly on the NE side. It’s a very bad stretch.

    Bless these people for not abandoning the city.

  • Fascinating feature – I’ve lived here forever and didn’t know about this. Some entrepreneur ought to start a Sat. morning croissant delivery business.

  • If you want croissants you need to get there before 9 or 10AM on Saturday. A limited amount is made so when they are gone, they are gone.
    Nicole is great and it is wonderful that she keeps the place going despite the crime and the beggars. She feels unsafe because she has experienced crime. She, her granddaugher and her workers have been robbed. That last robbery was violent. So yeah, she feels unsafe for damned good reason.
    If you have time it is lovely to chat with her about her native France and growing up there. She and her bakery are a neighborhood treasure.

  • Wow! I’m originally from NYC, and my step-father is Joseph Nicolosi. I’ve lived in D.C. since 1995 but recently bought a house in Eckington, and drive up North Capitol every day, on my way home from work. As I drive up North Capitol I see Catania, and think about Arthur Ave. in the Bronx, or my step-dad’s family (and thus my family in general). I just called my mother to tell her about this article/story/shop and she recalled how she, and my step-dad were in Nicolosi (as stated, my step-dads namesake), and while it’s not where my step-dad’s family originates, certainly strikes a chord. I’m so glad to read about the history of this place, and I shall certainly stop by!!!! 🙂

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