WICKER PARK – An Italian sandwich shop with bread baked on site opens on the border of Wicker Park and the Ukrainian village.
Firenze, 2121 W. Division St., offers sandwiches made with schiacciata, a popular flatbread found in Florence, Italy, which gives the restaurant its name. Options range from turkey pecorino to prosciutto with truffles and roasted vegetables.
The business is expanding from its first location in the French West Loop market. Florence is directed by Kevin Hunsberger and Alan Wallis.
Hunsberger joined the firm last year after Wallis’ son-in-law, who co-founded the boutique in 2018 after a trip to Italy, moved into a silent associate role.
The duo began considering expansion and began looking for a central location to bake their bread.
“We needed a place to bake bread. At French Market, we have a few hundred square feet to work with. [But] we had a lot of follow-up and presence. And a brand that we think could have legs,” Wallis said.
After a thorough search, Wallis and Hunsberger found the Wicker Park site, which will open next week, although it may begin serving customers informally by then. The restaurant’s bread is fully baked at the storefront.
Hunsberger, who oversees the company’s culinary development, said it’s really the schiacciata bread that sets Firenze’s sandwiches apart from its competitors.
“I have never seen that in this country. I’ve seen thin foccaccia, but it’s really foccaccia, it’s not what we do,” he said. “We don’t want to be a Panera. We don’t want to be a Così. We want to be Florence.
Firenze’s menu is relatively small, with only seven sandwiches available so far, along with two salads – but Hunsberger said that’s on purpose.
“We’re not going to be this brand that’s going to have 25 sandwiches and a bunch of other stuff. It’s a piece that I think is important to us. We’re going to make sure everything hits a quality threshold that we we are waiting,” Hunsberger said.
Wallis and Hunsberger hope the Wicker Park location is the first of a larger expansion. They are in talks to open in multiple food halls later this year, and they hope to have up to 10 locations by 2024.
For their second location, the partners said they plan to become an active part of the larger neighborhoods of Wicker Park and West Town. In their first month, Firenze plans to donate $1 from each sandwich to a Ukrainian humanitarian organization.
“This will be our first opportunity to really be in a big, big community and really be a part of it. We don’t just want to be that restaurant chain that takes advantage of the community. … We want to be part of the community,” Hunsberger said.
Firenze Wicker Park will be open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
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