The much-awaited Connecticut-based Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, which has served coal-fired pizzas for 97 years, has opened in Bethesda’s Westfield Montgomery mall.
Frank Pepe was an Italian immigrant who came to the United States at age 16 in 1909, and started the restaurant in 1925. It has since grown to 13 locations.
A signature pizza of Pepe’s is the White Clam Pizza, which features fresh clams with Pecorino Romano cheese, oil, fresh garlic and oregano.
Other pizzas offered include the Amanti Della Carne (tomatoes, mozzarella, meatball, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, Pecorino Romano), and another pizza with spinach, mushroom and gorgonzola. Customers can also order Pepe’s Original Tomato Pie with mozzarella, and add their own toppings.
Pepe’s announced in late 2019 that it would be opening in the mall, but construction was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bethesda restaurant held a soft-opening over the weekend for invited guests, and Monday was its first official day in business, Jennifer Kelly, Pepe’s granddaughter, told Bethesda Beat in an interview Monday.
“Saturday night, the place was jammin’. People just couldn’t believe our product,” she said. “Newbies coming in were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the best I ever had. What makes it so good?’”
Kelly said Pepe’s coal-fired pizzas have a distinctive charring and crispiness that resonates with customers, and the cooking process caramelizes the vegetables on top.
“We are the coal-fired pizza from New Haven. That’s us,” she said of the brand.
Kelly said that four years ago, the company started looking to add a location in the greater Washington area, after Connecticut natives living here called and emailed requests for an area location. They eventually settled on opening in Bethesda first, then Alexandria, Va., where a location will open soon, she said.
The Bethesda location is 3,500 square feet and can seat 90, according to a press release. Customers in the dining area can see pizzas being made through a window into the kitchen.
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. It offers takeout.
A manager at the restaurant told Bethesda Beat on Monday that organizations can request donation nights and have 25% of sales from that night be directed toward that organization.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org