Taking a Slice Out of Duke

Taking a Slice Out of Duke

As he walked to his car Monday, Chris Ammon carried a Styrofoam container in his right hand. Inside, an almost weekly indulgence: Paesano’s pizza.

He was getting it to go, but Ammon said he often comes to Paesano’s Deli and Pizza with a group of friends. “We easily do three larges and a couple Greek salads,” Ammon said. “We run up a decent tab.”

Like others who live or work nearby, he swears by the pizza and subs at Paesano’s, for 11 years a neighborhood standby. Ammon found the restaurant when his wife worked next door, and the couple still bring home Paesano’s when friends are coming for pizza. “They far exceed chain restaurants,” he said.

But Ammon is not looking forward to this summer, which he will have to endure nearly pizza-less. Next door, Rite Aid is holding a “Store Closing Sale.” Down the sidewalk in the same shopping center, TRAK Automotive and Hair Etc. Studio have already shut their doors.

Inside Paesano’s, though, owner Zack Driouche is selling a last few pizzas and subs. He, too, will close his doors, on Friday, June 27. “They’re going to tear down the shopping center, going to put up a Fresh Fields and apartments” on the lot at 1724 Duke St., he said. “People have been saying, ‘It’s not fair,’ asking if there’s anything we can do to stop it.”

Driouche has good news for Paesano’s regulars, though. “We’re moving to 1725 Duke St. My customers know I’m moving – I’m collecting business cards, and I’m going to be sending them some information.”

It was a relief for Ammon. “My first concern was that they would move out of my delivery area,” he said. “Now my biggest concern is, I have to go two months without Paesano’s pizza.”

A BANNER HANGING from the roof of Paesano’s current home invites customers to join Driouche at his new home. The reopening, on Sept. 1, will also be an anniversary, marking 11 years since he first opened the restaurant on Duke Street.

“I was working in an Italian restaurant, and a guy who came to play music was watching me,” said Driouche, now 36. “I was a good service person, I knew about food, cooking. He said, you know, the money you make for them you can make for yourself.”

The two opened Paesano’s, and Driouche was soon handling the place on his own. Over the last decade, he built up the business, attracting customers from Old Town and Del Ray, but also from Arlington and across the river in D.C.

Enough customers came that two years ago, Driouche started considering a move. He knew he’d miss Paesano’s current location – “It’s a freestanding building, you can see your customers coming in.”

But nothing happened two years ago. Since he already had his eye on the market, however, Driouche was ready when he knew he had to leave his current home.

He’ll be moving across the street, into the ground floor of an office building. “It has a plaza, where I can put tables and outside seating,” said Driouche. “It’s a perfect location for me.”

THERE’S ONLY ONE problem: Paesano’s new home isn’t finished yet. It’s only a minor obstacle, Driouche said. “There are employees who have been here six, seven, eight years. They said, ‘We don’t want to go anywhere. If we can help speed up construction, we want to.’”

There’s a reason to help, said Marchoud Hamid, Paesano’s grill man for six years. “I feel like Paesano’s is like my second home,” he said. “It’s like a family – we know a lot of the customers who come in every day, where they work, what they eat.”

Like Driouche, he’s sad to leave the storefront. “I love this place; six years, it’s a long time. But what are we going to do?”

So Hamid won’t be leaving home when the grill goes cold – he will help build the new home for Paesano’s, and wait until September to put on his apron again. He expects his regulars will follow, and not stray over the summer.

“They’ll probably all come to the new one,” Hamid said. “Cause they love our food.”

Antoine Guy will follow. An employee of the nearby Crate & Barrel, Guy was leaving Paesano’s eating a bag of chips after his lunch. He didn’t mind walking a little farther for lunch and was happy to see Paesano’s staying in the neighborhood.

“I thought they were moving way out. I didn’t want to see that,” he said. “A lot of people who want a reasonable lunch come here. You can spend $5 and get a decent lunch – other places, that’s not true.