‘Pizza I’ loses freshman base

Pizza Italia, the well-known freshman hangout across the street from Thurston Hall, is fighting to keep its doors open in light of falling sales, inconvenient construction and the University’s mandatory J Street spending policies, the restaurant’s manager said.

Sam Parks, owner of the restaurant on 19th and F streets, said he is worried about the pizza parlor’s future. Parks relies on his freshman neighbors in Thurston for business, but with sales down 30 to 40 percent in the last two years, he said he can no longer operate the late-night hours that made “Pizza I” popular.

“Almost all my customers are freshman but now freshmen have the mandatory money, my business really hurts from that,” Parks said, referring to the $700 a semester that freshmen must spend at J Street.

In order to cut costs, Parks closes the store at 9 p.m. In the past, the store would often stay open to 3 or 4 a.m. to cater to Thurston’s late-night crowd.

“If I get more business then I could stay open later on Friday and Saturday nights, but now it costs too much to stay open any later,” Parks said.

The J Street spending policy is not the only thing hurting the pizzeria, Parks said. The World Bank building, which houses Pizza I, is undergoing construction, blocking the restaurant’s exposure on both F and 19th streets.

Screens, windows and white sheets surround the restaurant’s doorway as well as nearly half of the outdoor sitting space. Tables and chairs once filled with students are stacked against the back walls, now replaced by metal beams and tarps. Parks said he received less than two weeks notice of the construction project that will scar his patio for more than a year.

“Freshmen don’t know about this place,” said junior Harry Baumgarten.

Even if they do not know it, many of Thurston’s current residents have already been introduced to Pizza I. Two weeks ago, with the help of six regular sophomore customers, Parks gave away a several hundred dollars worth of pizza slices in front of Thurston. The sophomores who volunteered their time said they did it out of love for Sam and his business.

“Sam and his wife have always been a family to my friends and I, and we just wanted to give back to them,” said Luke Moorse, one of the volunteers.

“I had no idea they existed, but I think it was a genius marketing ploy to give away free pizza,” said freshman Megan Arellano, a Thurston resident.

In an attempt to attract new customers, Parks is also considering installing free Wi-Fi and a big-screen television.

“Years ago – the first years were really good,” Parks said. “Every weekend students would sit here eating, chatting, talking; a lot of students would come.”

Baumgarten said the restaurant was a major part of his freshman year.

“It’s kind of like the Cheers of GW,” he said. “I know for myself you can go in and feel like home. For juniors and seniors, this was a fond memory.”

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