The rectangular pizzas aren’t the only distinctive feature of the freshly minted H &pizza in the Atlas District. Since it opened in July, the line of patrons waiting to place their order at the counter is frequently animated with a flurry of hand gestures.
“Our first customers were Gallaudet University frat guys,” says Steve Salis, who co-owns the business with fellow New Yorker Michael Lastoria. The five hearing-impaired collegians reached out to the entrepreneurs with a yellow pennant, now prominently displayed behind the cash register; the owners ended up hiring three (former and current) Gallaudet students, with the goal of having at least one person on staff who can sign. “We want people to feel very comfortable,” says Salis.
Salis, a former hospitality consultant who ran a bar in the West Village, and Lastoria, who comes from a marketing and advertising background, looked at several cities, including Austin and Denver, before relocating to Washington 14 months ago. The decision to settle here was made while Salis was taking in the city from the back of a car. “It felt right,” he says. As for his choice of neighborhood, “I like being part of something that’s growing.”
Aiming to “redevelop the pizza parlor” concept, the owners came up with elongated crusts (“everyone does circles”) based on a choice of three different doughs: traditional, multigrain and nutty-flavored whole wheat (my pick of the bunch). Toppings are added in front of customers, who can watch their pie go into an electric oven with a wire conveyor that ferries the designs through 650-degree heat until the pizzas are baked about 90 seconds later.
Lemon slices float in carafes of ice water set atop each communal table. Sweet touch. As I’m about to dig into a pizza scattered with house-made mozzarella, hot sausage, spinach and an egg — a.k.a. “Farmer’s Daughter” — a server shows up with some chili oil in case I want to up the heat index. Nice touch, too.