HYATTSVILLE – July 15 is officially a day for art and pizza in both Prince George’s County and the city of Hyattsville after both the county executive and the Hyattsville community celebrated the opening of Pizzeria Paradiso and Art Works Now’s new headquarters. The two establishments officially celebrated their openings with a ribbon cutting on […]
HYATTSVILLE – July 15 is officially a day for art and pizza in both Prince George’s County and the city of Hyattsville after both the county executive and the Hyattsville community celebrated the opening of Pizzeria Paradiso and Art Works Now’s new headquarters.
The two establishments officially celebrated their openings with a ribbon cutting on Saturday, though both had been open in some capacity prior to the ceremony. Pizzeria Paradiso opened on July 8, while Art Works held summer camps throughout the previous month.
The ribbon cutting drew a couple hundred people to the renovated building off of Rhode Island Avenue who wanted to see how the building was changed, eat pizza and make art.
“I’ve heard in my head the saying of ‘you can never go home’ and it’s not true. It’s not true,” said Barbara Johnson, the founder of Art Works and a native Prince Georgian.
The new space will allow Art Works to expand its program and create new opportunities for adult and teen classes. Inside the renovated structure now sits multiple art studios, a gallery space and offices while a children’s play area rests outside under an awning.
And while the opening was met with great joy, the road to the ribbon cutting was not quite as joy-filled as Johnson, her spouse and the community lived through the process, including set backs and even the destruction of a beloved greenhouse.
“It was a mess,” Johnson said.
Johnson grew up in Prince George’s County and has fond memories of the building her non-profit now occupies alongside her spouse’s restaurant. The building was the former home to the Marché Florist where Johnson recalls her family would go for all their flower needs.
After founding Art Works Now in 2011 in Mount Rainier, Johnson saw her mission outgrowing the space she had and soon set her sights on a new space, with a particular eye on the Marché building.
Juliana Molina, the program director at Art Works, said Johnson had a particular soft spot for the building because her father would purchase yellow roses for her mother.
“This is where she came for her boutonnières and any flower for any special event and for years it had been closed down,” Molina said. “It had become run-down and she thought one day, while driving by ‘I wonder what’s happening with that building?’ And about 48 hours later she heard that this building was up for sale and a few weeks later, she owned this building.”
Johnson described her reintroduction to the building as a ‘nightmare,’ describing the bullet holes in the glass and the building materials spread across the ground, but she had a vision of what the building could be. She could hear the laughter, see the light and the colors and, above all, she loved the building.
“There have been times when people said, ‘maybe you should’ve just tore it down and start it over.’ And while as a business person or a developer, which I’m not, that might have been something someone might have wanted to do, but for me the reason I bought this building, the reason why I want to be in this building is because of what this building was and can be and is now again. This is a place of creativity and community and celebration,” Johnson said.
Community and culture are something Art Works Now and Pizzeria Paradiso have in common, said Ruth Gresser, the chef-owner of the pizzeria.
“Food and art are really very key elements of culture and it’s been something that I supported for a very long time, even before I met Barbara, because it’s the thing that lasts,” she said. “When we think of ancient societies, we know their art. Their art remains and then food, when you talk to people about the food of their youth – it’s just in them. So these two things, they meet some place very special.”
Gresser opened her first pizzeria in 1991 in Dupont Circle with a focus on making a better pizza. She said her establishment was the first in the Washington, D.C. area to make Neapolitan-style pizza with primarily Italian ingredients and baked in a brick oven.
The pizzeria also has a family and community-welcoming atmosphere, which Gresser said makes her business unique. It also made the restaurant a perfect space-partner for the community-based Art Works.
“For the first two years of the process, it was looking for a partner for Art Works and as this area continued to grow and as (Johnson) and I both spent more time here, we kind of recognized the thing that made sense here was a food establishment,” Gresser said. “And I happen to run a food establishment, so it kind of made sense for us to partner.”
The chef-owner noted that she and Johnson will celebrate their 25th anniversary in September and believes that is a testament to how well the two work together. And this is just another adventure they’ve undertaken.
Their partnership and that of their establishments is also on display inside Pizzeria Paradiso through the exhibit of local artist-made “Master Pizzas,” which are essentially pizza art with some puns like “Peace a Pizza” or master pieces on pieces of the Master Pizza.
“One of the reasons I think Barbara and I have such a good relationship is that we both have an affinity for both food and pizza and, by extension, the creative process, and we understand the importance of culture,” Gresser said.
Johnson said Pizzeria Paradiso’s July 8 opening was one of the best for the company, with the largest receipts for a first day in the company’s history.
“There’s a time where it’s like ‘okay, it’s time to get to making pizza.’ So I’m very excited to now be making pizza,” Gresser said.