Bacio Pizzeria: More Than a Place for Pies
When Atilla Suzer is asked if he ever would have imagined having “this” ten years ago, he responds with a definitive “no.” “This” is Bacio Pizzeria, a thriving carry-out pizza joint in Bloomingdale.
Ten years ago, Suzer was living in his native Turkey as a just laid-off journalist, about to depart on his first trip to America. He landed in Glen Burnie, Maryland, where he enrolled in English-as-second-language courses and eventually moved to the District. His first job was as a dishwasher in a large chain pizza store, where his only words, he said, were, “Yes boss, no boss.” That first job paid $3.50 for training, because, the manager told him, he hadn’t mastered English yet. After six months of completing schooling though, he brought up his hourly wage and ended up quitting.
He says as an immigrant he didn’t have many choices for work. So, he stayed on the “pizza” route because he started making friends in the business. They’d call him if there was an open job, and eventually made his way to a manager job at Italy Pizza on Florida Avenue in Northwest. When it came up for sale, he had saved enough and bought it.
After successfully running the restaurant, he sold his half to his partner and started on the path that would eventually lead to Bacio. “I was looking for an investment neighborhood and a job that I like to do.” He explains his choice in Bloomingdale as an economic investment, because it’s not quite to “developed” status, but there isn’t a lot of competition and the residents have a little extra income to spend on the more expensive, organic ingredients that he wanted to offer.
Before Bacio, 81 Seaton Place, N.W., was a garage, and it had to be completely converted, a process that took nearly one-and-a-half years. Nearly a year ago, Green Paws opened, an organic pet shop that is graced by Suzer’s own black lab, Miles. Six months later, Bacio opened below. Suzer’s wife, a journalist, runs the website and marketing, while Suzer runs the day-to-day. Suzer made all the design choices, from an antique Coca-Cola refrigerator complete with glass bottles and Turkish floor tiles, to a genuine farmer’s table he got at an auction. He made the choice to make it mainly a carry-out establishment. And he chose not to put bars over the front windows.
“When you go to a place, you want to eat there and not just get out of there as soon as you can. Sometimes, you go to carry-out stores and they are dirty, dark; you wait behind the glass,” he said. “Here, you come in you can see it’s clean, and psychologically it makes people open their appetites.” He also decided to keep the hours short and not do delivery.
“If I were looking for profit, I could do delivery or late night, but we’re all natural organic downstairs. If I want people to come try the pizza and see quality and get to know each other, face-to-face is better than talking on the phone. And they don’t even know where it is in the neighborhood.”
The menu consists of eight neighborhood-named pizzas like the “Shaw,” which is ham, baby arugula, ricotta, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and pesto and the “Eckington,” more of a meat-lovers with ham, sausage, onion, pepperoni and mozzarella. It also features several calzones, salads and pints of ice cream from Moorenko’s, made locally in Silver Spring. Suzer also offers several beverages, including fresh-squeezed orange juice that pays homage to Turkey, where he says shops will have several fresh-squeezed juice for only $1.
He doesn’t keep the store open past 10 p.m., mainly because he wants to be respectful of his neighbors, the people who will ultimately make him successful or not.
“If the neighborhood is going from non-developed to developed, you’re teaching people, and that takes time. Out of ten customers, six say, ‘I was feeding my dog from the super market, and now I want to feed him from natural food.’ And you have to be patient and tell them the differences between this food and that food,” he said. He said it would be a few years before Bacio turns a profit, but for right now, he and his wife aren’t in a hurry. “It’s not about you, it’s about the people that vote for you. You can have a $1-million investment or $10,000, it doesn’t matter. People will decide.”
Bacio’s is located at 81 Seaton Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001. Visit them at baciopizzeria.com, or call 202-232-2246. Store hours are Monday and Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.