“When I first saw the building, I had a feeling,” says Michele. “She does that. She just knows,” Francis says, affirming her gift. Francis Skrobiszewski and Michele Fontaine are the couple with the entrepreneurial spirit and vision behind Up on Market Bistro and The Inn on Market.
According to documents Francis researched, 301 North Market was built as a residence sometime before 1778. It was owned by Richard Potts, a Revolutionary War hero and member of the Continental Congress, and subsequently sold. Through the years the house had further incarnations as an inn, dry goods store, hardware store and various other businesses. When Francis and Michele first saw 301 North Market, the property couldn’t have been in worse shape. Following years of neglect and alterations, including the walling up of tiny rooms likely used as rentals, broken and outdated plumbing, and layer upon layer of paint and flooring, the deteriorating building was sorely in need of repairs and restoration.
As the former owner of a coffee, tea, and kitchen shop in Dupont Circle for 33 years, Michele was renowned for her ability to make a great espresso. Francis says, “Michele had the idea of opening a coffee shop, and so we would periodically come to Frederick and drive through town.” For these Georgetown residents, Frederick felt like home. “Frederick’s full of history. We noted that it had a good sense of community and that people here were really friendly. We found people to be interesting and polite, and we simply fell in love with Frederick,” says Michele.
The renovations happened slowly over time. As it goes with old buildings, Michele said, “Every time we did one thing, we had three more things to repair.” Stripping the building down to the bare bones, they searched for anything salvageable. Coming across a few original pieces of woodwork and door casings, Francis contracted Just Wood Industries of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. “We had him replicate those so that we could have authentic detail of the original building,” explained Francis. Michele points out the change in the windows. “At some point, they had put up board moulding outside which covered the entire top of these tall windows. We removed that, and then you could see that the windows went all the way up.” The windows are one of many beautiful architectural details that Michele and Francis have restored while adding new and old to the space.
Michele says, “This is a magical place here on the corner. This was meant to be.” She explains why she feels that way by citing the happy incidents that occurred while working to fulfill her vision for the interior. While thinking she might like white marble bistro tables and bentwood rockers, they became available. “So many things happened like that,” she said.
“Along the way, while the building was under repair, we started refurbishing the brickwork. The response from the community was overwhelming. People started honking and giving the thumbs up and waving as they passed by,” Francis says. That was very encouraging, and so were the comments. Manager David Manning says, “I’ve been all over the country working in other businesses, and I’ve never seen a community that is more supportive.”
Michele and Francis built the place to have a Parisienne inspired flair. Upon walking into the building, the effect is stunning, appearing to have evolved. Timeless is the word that David says describes the restaurant and inn and timeless truly captures the essence of Up on Market. Pulling the perfect details together toward that vision was the mission for Michele, and as Francis says, “She has the eye.” Her attention to detail is what makes Up on Market and the Inn on Market so captivating. From the marrying of the black and white large tiles with the small tiles in the dining room to the found brass light fixture in the bathroom foyer, and so many more, each detail has her mark on it.
Michele has made her mark on the kitchen and menu, as well. As Chef, she created the recipes featured on the menu. In addition to the beautiful assortment of French-style pastries and bread, the bistro serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. David says, “All the meats are fresh and sourced from Wagner’s, and the fish is wild-caught from Trout’s Seafood. Everything we serve is very high quality and made from scratch.” Crafting the bar menu, Francis recreates the sophisticated drinks from his father’s era. The menu is reflective of the theme, timeless. It includes classically crafted cocktails such as the Manhattan, Martini, and others that have stood the test of time.
Up on Market shares space with The Inn on Market. Upstairs are four generously appointed rooms with en suite bathrooms alongside Michele and Francis’ residence. Accessed from Third Street and also from within the restaurant, Michele’s creative touch is throughout. She says, “When I envisioned the inn on this property, it seemed like a natural thing. I wanted it to be elegant, like a small European hotel, and it just lent itself to it. People stay and then just come down and enjoy the restaurant. It is luxurious, comfortable, and surrounded by beauty.” That, it is.