Walking into the Pete’s Apizza location in Tenleytown, I approached the counter and asked for Chef Thomas Marr. “Chef who?” said the cashier. Suddenly I was afraid that I had gotten the location wrong. Was I supposed to go to the one in Columbia Heights? Did I get the time wrong? “Uhh, let me go check for you,” he said. No sooner did the jovial chef come out to greet me, the cashier laughed, “Sorry, when you said ‘chef’ I got confused. He’s known as one of the owners around here.”
Wearing multiple hats is exactly what Marr does–he’s a chef, but he’s also one of the co-founders of Pete’s Apizza and is often busy managing the restaurant and talking with familiar customers. “Restaurant people are restaurant people,” he says, adding that once they start working in the restaurant business, they stay. For Marr, he always enjoyed the hospitality aspect and getting satisfaction out of making customers happy. Now, he’s got a restaurant of his own, and even invested in a POS system, e.g., Revel Systems, so he can have better customer transactions. Marr entered the restaurant world as a dishwasher, graduated to doing prep work and eventually trained at the Culinary Institute of America. He’s worked in restaurants across the world, including DC’s own National Gallery of Art.
‘Pizza at Pete’s Apizza’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’
Juggling different roles in Marr’s business is one of his favorite, yet most challenging, parts of his job. “I knew from a young age that I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Marr says. While he enjoys the freedom of owning his own business, there are personal sacrifices he has to make. For example, Marr and his co-owner, Joel Mehr, braved the snow and personally delivered the remaining orders the night of DC’s most recent snowstorm in January. “It takes a lot of time and work to make everything run well. It’s by far the best, but hardest job I’ve had,” says Marr.
After hearing about Marr’s background, I wondered how did a native Northern Virginian decide to open a New Haven style pizza place? As it turns out, Marr’s wife’s family and his business partner’s wife are both from the New England area. Thus, in 2008 Mehr and Marr decided to open Pete’s Apizza and bring a little New Haven flavor to the District. The two did their homework before starting Pete’s and explored the Neopolitan roots of pizza by touring Italy and the famous Sorbillo’s Pizzeria in Naples. They pay homage to the Italian roots with their “Sorbillo’s slice,” a rectangular pizza with salumi, ricotta and mozzarella, and they pay homage to New Haven with their white clams and garlic pizza. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Clams on pizza? I don’t think so.” But trust me, it’s good.
Marr says he wants people to understand that they’re offering something better, a pizza that tastes better than your average, run-of-the-mill, cheap slice. “We’re breeding a generation of quality pizza consumers,” he says. And it’s evident when families start pouring into the Tenleytown-Friendship Heights location on a Friday night. Marr says that families in the area go to Pete’s not only because their pizza tastes better, but also because it’s made with simple, natural ingredients (you know, ones you can actually pronounce). For Marr, it’s important to educate people on the ingredients they use, to take the time to care about the ingredients. The proof is in the pizza–it really is some of the best I’ve had. In addition to using produce from a co-op of local farms, Pete’s Apizza makes their own sausage and meatballs, as well as their own gelato.
Check back at 3 pm for Marr’s recipe for carmelized winter squash with cherries and apple crisps.