What goes best with Neapolitan brick oven pizza? How about craft beer and local art.
HYATTSVILLE, Maryland – Pizzeria Paradiso Chef and owner Ruth Gresser knows few things go better with pizza than beer. After all, Paradiso is known for having one of the best craft beer programs in town.
But this year, Gresser is testing a new pairing option for his Neapolitan brick oven pizzas: art.
Saturday July 18 marks the inauguration ceremony of a common concept of community arts center and restaurant of Pizzeria Paradiso and Art works now at 4800 Rhode Island Ave. in Hyattsville, Maryland.
When it opens in spring 2016, the community will have unique access to art classes, camps, special events and, yes, pizza.
The new business is an expansion of the two businesses. Pizzeria Paradiso has three locations in the DC area, and Art Works Now, which focuses on social justice issues through the expression of art, currently occupies 2,000 square feet in the post office building in Mt Rainier, Maryland.
Art Works Now Founder and Executive Director Barbara Johnson has been looking to grow her nonprofit for years. When she learned that a long-abandoned florist and greenhouse had been foreclosed, she jumped at the chance to purchase the large and unique space.
Johnson, who grew up in the Mt. Rainier / Hyattsville area, remembers the once bustling flower shop as a child.
âOn every occasion in our family, my dad would send my mom yellow roses that came from here,â she says.
It plans to preserve the historic integrity of the building and to rehabilitate the space to include studios, a ceramics room and galleries for recognized local and national artists.
âWhat is important to us is that everyone has access to artistic creation, using the materials that suit them best,â says Johnson.
The adjoining greenhouse will become a classroom with a special focus on nature and the environment – “which, of course, is a big social justice issue,” Johnson said. And 1,500 square feet of outdoor space will be transformed into outdoor workspace and event space for community events.
As Johnson envisioned the plans for the nonprofit organization’s new space in Hyattsville’s Gateway Arts District, she quickly realized the need for a partner to help support the costs of the building.
âThe building was pretty cheap on its own, but then it needs a lot of work,â says Johnson.
So she called on Gresser, her partner in life.
âSeeing that my partner in life is the chef and owner of Pizzeria Paradiso, I said: ‘What do you think? I think it could be so cool.
Gresser thought the idea of ââa neighborhood arts center and pizzeria made perfect sense.
âObviously, we have an affinity for the purpose of everyone’s life, so art is very important to me and food is very important to Barbara,â says Gresser. “And they come together and it’s kind of a manifestation of our relationship.”
The former customer area of ââthe florist will become the restaurant. Gresser says the size of the new Pizzeria Paradiso location will be roughly the size of the Dupont Circle restaurant. It also provides additional seating on the outdoor terrace.
Beer lovers fear not: Gresser says Paradiso’s award-winning beer program will be heading to Rhode Island Avenue.
âIt’s a very party-loving, beer-centric community from what I realized,â Gresser said.
Johnson says she can’t wait for warm Friday nights. She plans to host family-friendly community events with live music, movies and art.
âAnd it’s just open and active and they’re probably getting pizza next door at Pizzeria Paradiso,â she says.
The convenience of the joint concept also makes it easier for parents of Johnson’s art students.
âParents can drop their children off for a Saturday class and go to lunch next door. They don’t have to go and come back.
But perhaps more than anything, Johnson can’t wait to help revitalize his hometown community.
âI rememberâ¦ all of those buildings along this road were dynamic businesses. I think the way our culture changed, things changed and it just got a little slower and the face of the streets changed.
But dynamism is returning, she says, thanks to the involvement of the local community and the Gateway Arts District.
âWe are not making this up; we really take the ball and run with something that amazing people started a long time ago, âsaid Johnson. âI feel like this Saturday is a celebration of our groundbreaking work, but I also feel like it is a celebration of the entire Arts District and where we came from, together as a community. “
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Art Works Now and Pizzeria Paradiso will take place from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 18 at 4800 Rhode Island Ave. The event is free and open to the public.