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A promising sign hangs on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Third Street Northeast, at the old home of Romeo and Juliet Garden Cafe, and before that, White Tiger.
A promising sign hangs on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Third Street Northeast, at the old home of Romeo and Juliet Garden Cafe, and before that, White Tiger. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A new pizza place is coming to Capitol Hill and should be cranking out Neapolitan-style pies in under 90 seconds by early summer.

Pupatella is set to begin interior demolition on its new location at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Third Street Northeast in the next couple of weeks. The local chain, which serves internationally certified authentic Neapolitan pizza out of wood-fired ovens made of brick from Mount Vesuvius, hopes to succeed where other eateries have failed. 

The oft-traveled but sometimes overlooked corner has sat vacant since 2017, when the Romeo & Juliet Garden Cafe closed up shop. Before that, it was the longtime home of White Tiger Indian restaurant. 

“I lived above Union Pub for two years while that place sat empty,” said House Democratic communications director Sharon Eliza Nichols. “I always thought the space looked nice. Historical, crumbling in a European-looking way.”

It’s a win for the Senate side of the Capitol, which some complain has fewer options than the House side. 

“HUGE news for the struggling Senate side food scene on Capitol Hill,” tweeted Matt Whitlock, former Hill staffer and GOP spokesman.

A Capitol Hill location is the fifth for the fledgling pizza chain, which announced it had signed a lease in September, said Michael Berger, the chief operating officer of Pupatella. Though he was never a congressional staffer himself, the longtime Capitol Hill resident, who’s been part of other restaurant ventures, said he’s always had his eye on the corner.  

“As we started to expand and grow, I just fell in love with that location,” he said. The building now needs quite a bit of interior work after years sitting vacant, but the structure is in good shape, he said. 

The company, which has made several top Washington-area pizza lists, has one location in D.C., three in Northern Virginia — including its first location in Arlington — and one in Richmond. There are plans to open three more in NOVA soon as part of a larger move by the chain, which recently got a $7.5 million cash infusion to grow its footprint. 

Since the 2017 closure of Armand’s in the 200 block of Massachusetts Avenue, there’s been an absence of pizza in what could be considered the North submarket of Capitol Hill, Berger said. 

“We saw it as a really great opportunity to fill a food type that wasn’t there at the moment,” he said. 

The store is the brainchild of Enzo Algarme, who started selling pies out of a food truck in 2007 after struggling to find local pizza in the style of his native Naples, Italy. The name pupatella is actually his grandmother’s nickname, which means “little doll,” Berger said.  

Pizza is fuel in the Capitol, powering members and staff on long nights of legislating and other tasks, and the new pizzeria is ready to provide takeout to the Hill, he said. But the location will also have happy hour specials and plenty of seating for people to gather either inside or on the spacious patio. 

Though there are other pizza options in the wider area, Berger sees Pupatella’s pies as different — Neapolitan pizza is made with exacting ingredients and standards to create crispy crusts with a soft center. He hopes that will set the venture apart and lead to a long stay on the corner of Mass and Third. 

“I think the pizza itself will speak to our guests,” he said.

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