By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009
"What? They're closing?!"
Jenny Bumblis hadn't heard the news that Ledo Restaurant in Adelphi, the place where she got "the best pizza in the world," where she always took her children for dinner, was shutting its doors.
Actually, it's shutting its doors and reopening them several miles away.
Ledo, a Washington area landmark that has served its legendary square pizzas for almost 55 years, is moving next year from its original spot in a University Boulevard shopping center, just west of the University of Maryland, to College Park.
For Jimmy Marcos and Tommy Marcos Jr., who took over the reins of the restaurant from their father, Tommy Marcos Sr., the decision to move meant becoming part of the revitalization effort in College Park and placing the restaurant within walking distance of the university, an opportunity they could not pass up.
"This is about securing our future for another 50 years," said Jimmy Marcos, who plans to sign a lease for the new building this week.
Ledo opened in 1955 as a partnership between Tommy Marcos Sr., who worked for the Prince George's County Sheriff's Office, and Robert L. Beall, a former liquor inspector. During the restaurant's heyday in the 1960s and '70s, sports legends including Yogi Berra, Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath regularly walked through its doors, Jimmy Marcos said.
The pizza became so popular that the sons of Marcos and Beall created a franchise in 1989. But the relationship soured, a legal battle ensued and the Marcos family is no longer affiliated with the franchise. The Marcoses own and operate the original Ledo Restaurant.
The planned move of the famed restaurant, where plastic plants and mix-and-match stained-glass lamps hang from the ceiling and photographs of former U-Md. teams and Washington Senators line the walls, has left many customers and employees with mixed feelings.
"We always came here for the pizza," Bumblis said, a plate of half-eaten lasagna in front of her. "All of my kids are grown up now, but they loved it. . . . I just hope they don't lose that family feel. It's so intimate. . . . It still looks the same."
Customers remember when they were kids and came in with their parents to pick up dinner, the sweet aroma of pizza sauce and warm smoked provolone in the air. They recall going out for late-night bowling and standing in a line that snaked around the building to get a carry-out pizza. A couple even remembered getting engaged in one of the green faux-leather booths.
Toby Pendry, 73, has made the five-minute trek from his home in Adelphi to Ledo Restaurant almost every day for the past 50 years. He recently sat, reminiscing, in the restaurant's adjoining bar.
"I don't miss a day unless I can't get out of the house," Pendry said as he finished a beer. "I live back that way [pointing behind the restaurant], but this is my first home."
Carol Cornwell, a Ledo manager who has worked at the restaurant for 15 years, said she's heard it all. And she's seen it all, too.
She remembers the hoopla created when the "The Oprah Winfrey Show" featured the original Ledo Restaurant on an episode about America's best pizza. "We had people coming in from all over to try the pizza, even from Alaska," she said.
"I'm really gonna miss this old place," said Cornwell, known as C.C. by the regulars. "But it's time for a change."
Cornwell said the restaurant, always a favorite of U-Md. students, has started to lose some of that base. "The alumni know we're here, and they come, but the [students] starting out -- not so much," she said.
To keep his loyal customers, Jimmy Marcos said he plans to bring some of the nostalgia to the new restaurant, which will occupy 5,800 square feet on the ground floor of College Park's new parking garage, across from City Hall.
"We are trying to keep a similar feel but at the same time update it," he said. "We want people to recognize the place, to keep that comfort level that people have known throughout the years. We know people like walking back in time."