Philly Pizza, the former bane of West Georgetown, wants to reopen for business

Photo by Molly Redden
The establishment that was closed down for trash, noise, and zoning violations is trying to reopen
The establishment that was closed down for trash, noise, and zoning violations is trying to reopen

It's every Georgetown resident's worst nightmare: after an exhausting battle to shutter a recalcitrant late-night takeout place—whose food attracted, drunk, noisy students at odd hours, who in turn abandoned pizza boxes that attracted rodents and insects—the owners of the very same restaurant have applied to open a business in the very same location.

That's exactly what's happened on Potomac Street. The owner of the former West Georgetown menace Philly Pizza has recently applied with the DCRA for a Certificate of Occupancy to open a sandwich and prepared food shop in the old pizza place's same 1211 Potomac Street location.

Although the potential new restaurant is being billed primarily as a sandwich shop, akin to Subway, Georgetown ANC Commissioner Bill Starrels said that former Philly Pizza owner Matt Kocak may also be asking for approval to run his 500-plus-degree pizza oven in the refurbished restaurant. Starrels said that would violate the zoning code for the building. (Kocak declined to comment for this article and DCRA representatives did not return repeated requests for comment.)

According to papers in the windows of the vacant pizza place, the DCRA has already granted Philly Pizza a permit to do interior demolition. The exhaust system and the duct and hood in the kitchen, some of which violated the original zoning code when Philly Pizza was open, are all being removed, while additions aimed at equipping Kocak's establishment to be a "prepared food shop"—its proposed zoning use—can be added.

But Starrels, who spent days before the DCRA, and then at the D.C. Superior Court waiting for a court order to shut down Philly Pizza for good, said that no matter what form a new restaurant would take on if the DCRA gives it a new Certificate of Occupancy, Kocak is unwelcome in Georgetown.

"We would absolutely not support him," he said. "[Kocak] has no credibility in this neighborhood. He lost whatever trust he ever had."

Kocak is the same owner who, for months before a court order forced them to shutter his business, resisted compliance with zoning codes and violated orders from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to close down Philly Pizza. Inspectors for the DCRA had found that the business was operating as a takeout restaurant in a building zoned for sit-down service only.

Kocak appealed the DCRA decision last fall before the Board of Zoning Adjustment, which ruled with the DCRA. Local leaders, though, had to seek a court order before Philly Pizza finally closed down. The situation ultimately culminated in an appearance at the closed establishment by Mayor Adrian Fenty, the director of the DCRA, and D.C. Attorney Peter Nickles, who compared closing Philly Pizza to closing brothels in D.C.

Several months ago, when rumors that Kocak had filed with the DCRA for a new COO were just surfacing, Potomac Street residents like Wolf Wittke vehemently opposed the reopening of Kocak's establishment. "We never want to go through something like this again just to have peace and quiet," he said.