Dave Fedoroff was working for Trader Joe’s when he moved to New York City to join his childhood sweetheart and now-wife, the former Stella Sima, who was studying at Fashion Institute of Design.
The New York street fairs intrigued him. Fedoroff, now 32, grew up at Seventh and Washington, four blocks from Pat’s and Geno’s, and made a mean roast pork sandwich of his own. He mused to Stella that there would be a market for that kind of food.
Go on, she said. Do it.
Fedoroff’s Roast Pork has grown from a stand he set up at a fair in 2015 to two freestanding shops — one near the couple’s Brooklyn home and the other a hole in the wall in the Financial District in Lower Manhattan.
In the process, the couple got an education, notably that making 300 pounds of roast pork in a walk-up apartment won’t make you popular with your neighbors.
Philly purists often cringe when our sandwiches are offered out of town. Spongy bread, mystery meat. That neon “Philly cheesesteak” sign at the Las Vegas airport is not a good bet. And forget about that truck stop in Brunswick, S.C., that sells them alongside fried tilapia and gizzards.
Not at Fedoroff’s, where Fedoroff and his helpers slow-cook his pork and hand-trim the beef just as they do in his hometown. His Sunday gravy is simmered for hours. The soppressata, capicola, and prosciutto in the hoagies is Daniele. The sharp provolone is from Auricchio. He also found a bread bakery in Manhattan that turns out a roll worthy of a Philly sandwich — supremely crusty with a middle that can withstand ladles of jus. Most authentically, he overstuffs the sandwiches, a true act of love.
And speaking of love: Stella gave up her fashion career to work alongside Dave.
I was working at Trader Joe’s in Philly and then I transferred to New York. It was fine, but I always had the dream of having my own food business. But I never went to culinary school, I never really worked in a restaurant. New York has these street fairs and my wife was like, “You should do one of those.” And I was like, “No, because they look kind of crummy.” And she’s like, “You should do it.” And I was like, “All right.” So I did it.
It was the day of the New York Marathon , and all the streets between us and the bakery were blocked off and I couldn’t get my bread. It was the most stressful morning and I was sweating and just so stressed out. And I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home. I was telling my wife and she was like, “Get on a Citi Bike [New York’s cycle-share program] and get that bread.” I just drove to Little Italy, got three bags of bread, slung it over my shoulder and went back. We ended up making a thousand bucks that day. It was the most money I’d ever made in my life. And I was like, “Oh my God. I think we really got something here.”
Mostly because we needed a home base for our outdoor markets. I was getting my food deliveries just to my apartment at 69th and Columbus on the Upper West Side. We lived in a five-story walk-up and every Monday I would go to the supermarket, get 300 pounds of pork, and carry it up the stairs myself. We’d have the market on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, I would have a little tiny apartment stove and I would have to run it 24 hours a day Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in order to have enough pork for the weekend. But on Mondays, I literally had to carry 300 pounds of pork up the stairs. I bought a deep freezer and we had to put it in our bedroom. So we’d freeze the pork, just so it would keep, and then overnight. Because the pork takes over 12 hours to cook, we’d have to cook it overnight. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and I’d just smell pork. And at first, it’s a good smell. But soon it got to be just horrible. Every day, the apartment smelled like pork.
Yes, they did. I ended up getting a new oven without my landlord’s permission and I ripped out the sink because the sink was basically nonfunctional.
Oh, my God. It wasn’t. We ended up getting kicked out of the apartment.
Brooklyn. Greenpoint. A 15-minute walk from where the store is. I was like, “Look, I can’t do this cooking in my apartment anymore.” We ended up using Commissary Kitchen, but it was expensive and I was like, “If I can just have a store, a home base, where I can just get all my deliveries, keep my guys in the winter, because the market shut down in the winter, I can keep my guys year round.” And that was it.
I just made them up at birthday parties when I was a teenager. My friend’s dad used to do roast pork and broccoli rabe for his Christmas party. I thought, “Man, that’s a great idea. That’s a perfect party food.” You got your roast pork. You got your beautiful sharp cheese. You got your broccoli rabe. It’s all on platters. You got your Sarcone’s bread. And the guests just make them into sandwiches. You got your gravy. You can control how much gravy you want on there. I was like, “That’s a great idea.” So I started to do it for birthdays and just developed the recipes over time.
It was a lot harder to find the bread than I thought it would be in New York. I didn’t find anything I liked. I was walking down the street one day and there’s this Italian restaurant called Parm, and they had this beautiful seeded bread in the window. It looked just like Sarcone’s. I walked in and said, “Where’d you get that bread?” And they said, “Parisi.” So I took the subway down to Little Italy, sampled some stuff, and that was it.
Just because you’re good at making sandwiches doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be good at owning a business, owning a restaurant. It’s completely different. I literally knew nothing when I started and now I know a lot, but I’m still learning. The more you know, the less you know. You know what I mean? The restaurant is so much harder than the markets. The markets are physically demanding and difficult and stuff, but there’s so much more that can go wrong with a store. So many more bills. Equipment can break. At the markets, if a piece of equipment breaks, you throw it out and you get another one. You know what I mean? With the store, you’re dealing with stuff that costs thousands of dollars and so much more.
He lives down the street. And when we first opened, we became friends with the owners of Lilia, also down the street. Sean Feeney, the owner of Lilia, said, “You know — he was real excited when we first opened. He’s a Jersey guy so he knows the steak and the pork.” Sean said, “Come over to Lilia for dinner.” We did and Bronson was there. We met him. Bronson said, “I’ll [come to the shop] tomorrow.” And I thought he was [lying to] me. Sure enough, he, Sean, and two friends show up the next day. They order every single thing on the menu and they leave. And then they came back two hours later and did the same thing: ordered every single thing on the menu again. And then the next day he put a picture of the cheesesteak up on Instagram. He’s got a million and a half followers. The day after that was, at the time ... the best day we ever had. We were packed and sold out at like 2 o’clock in the afternoon and it was just a really big boost. Our first year was really tough. We almost didn’t make through our first year. And that really helped us get through our first year.
Yes! At first, no. But then we were like, “Why not?” I’m always thinking …