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Pupatella Neapolitan pizza
Pupatella believes in the power of community and is crafting its business to resemble a neighborhood gathering spot with some delicious food.

Is Pupatella the Pizza Hut of 2023?

The neighborhood restaurant is aiming to bring people together again over, what else, pizza.

Remember the days when you’d gather at your neighborhood Pizza Hut post-Little League game or for a birthday celebration? The Tiffany-style lamps and friendly environment would draw you in and the good times would roll throughout the night. It was a popular gathering spot for decades until its recent off-premises-friendly repositioning.

Pupatella wants to reclaim that pizzeria of old.

The Washington, D.C.-based Neapolitan pizza chain believes in the power of community and is crafting its business to resemble a neighborhood gathering spot with some delicious food.

“We think that's one of the things that’s gone by the wayside from our past,” said managing partner Michael Berger.

That’s one of Pupatella’s core tenets: a neighborhood gathering spot for the community. That’s why, as Berger puts it, it’s trying to be the Pizza Hut of today.

“We're hosting a soccer party for a local soccer team; the nine- and 10-year-old girls just won a championship,” he said. “But also, [it’s] a great place to take your mom on Mother's Day for a nice night and a good bottle of wine.”

Cord Thomas, CEO of Pupatella, said too many restaurants are ditching tradition in favor of caving to customer trends. But not Pupatella. The brand is on a mission to feed both people’s hearts and their stomachs.

“There are a lot of kind of white-tablecloth places that are serving this style of food, but there are not a lot of approachable neighborhood places that are serving this style of food,” Berger said. “It really does appeal to the masses.”

“Going out to dinner for quality food doesn't have to be difficult,” added Thomas.

The pizza stands out on its own. It’s Neapolitan-style and Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN)-certified, meaning it comes from a “group of Neapolitan people representing some of the oldest families of pizza makers and the most famous Neapolitan pizzerias seeking to cultivate the culinary art of making Neapolitan pizza,” according to the organization’s website. It was officially established by the Italian government.

Being VPN-certified means that the pizzas are made with certain ingredients and adhere to a strict code for the preparation, as well.

Neapolitan pizza starts with the dough, which is made using only a select few ingredients: water, flour and yeast. It produces a very airy crust and, when you bite into it, the crust is a bit chewy with air pockets.

“We're making sauce out of Italian tomatoes, we're bringing in ovens directly from Naples made of the bricks from Mount Vesuvius,” Berger said. “We're bringing in cheese every week from Naples to really match that flavor profile.”

One of Berger’s favorite items is the Prosciutto Arugula pizza with arugula, Prosciutto di Parma, and mozzarella cheese. It’s like many pizzas at Pupatella — well-crafted and simple. The pizzas are meant to let the fresh ingredients shine.

Since opening as a food truck in 2007, Pupatella has expanded to eight locations across the D.C. metropolitan area. The brand has been busy securing fundraising. In 2018, Pupatella raised $3.75 million in funding, which was doubled in 2021 with a second round that raised $7.5 million. The brand hopes to build 12 new restaurants in the next few years, more than doubling its unit count. Four new locations are already on the way for this year and next, according to the company.

At the end of the day, the team at Pupatella is cautious when it comes to growth outside of the D.C. metro area.

“It’s really hard to keep those checks in place when you can't drive to one of your restaurants and you can't have one of your staff members check in on it every day,” said Berger.

The next phase of openings will all take place along the Eastern seaboard around D.C. because, as Berger said, there is still “plenty of room” for them to grow in that area.

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