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Pizzamaker braves snow to deliver on Super Bowl Sunday

After two recent snowstorms closed the federal government and schools across the region, people began digging out. The season's snow tally in D.C. reached 55.6 inches Wednesday -- more than the last record of 54.4 inches, set in 1898-99.

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By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 8, 2010

For pizza shops, Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest night of the year, a chance to do a week's worth of business in a single night, an event to look forward to all year.

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"Tonight is like prom night for us," said Todd Wiss, owner of Radius Pizza in Mount Pleasant. "It's huge. We'd hope to do multiple thousands of dollars in revenue."

That's why he packed the walk-in refrigerator with an extra 80 pounds of mozzarella and 30 extra pounds of sausage. And that's why, as the Blizzard of 2010 smothered the Washington region, he put on his hat and duck boots and spent two hours digging out his sport-utility vehicle Sunday. Then he made a harrowing, 45-minute trip from his home in Shirlington to work in the District.

"It was like driving in Antarctica," he said.

People want their pizza on Super Bowl Sunday. They demand it. On Saturday, at the height of the storm, when Radius wasn't delivering, someone called and demanded to know why. But when Wiss's two drivers called Sunday to say they were snowed in, the boss knew he would have to put down his chef's hat and become the deliveryman.

"It's not what I went to culinary school for, but the bank doesn't care that it snowed," he said. "It's my money on the line. It's my credit."

At 1:30, he goes out to gas up his Honda Pilot and check the roads in his neighborhood. "It's a mess," he says when he gets back. Even the area's main thoroughfares -- Irving and 16th streets NW, Park Road -- are a mess. But Wiss shovels out a parking space and gets ready to roll, because Super Bowl Sunday is his industry's Black Friday.

Wiss bought the place with his wife, Nicole Ryan, in April. They tapped into their savings. Ran up their credit cards. Took out a $180,000 loan. Wiss didn't pay himself a salary for three months.

Wiss, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, worked as the executive sous-chef at the Post Moderne Brasserie on Eighth Street downtown and then as executive chef at Black's Bar and Kitchen in Bethesda. When the opportunity to buy Radius came up -- Ryan had worked for the owners at one of their other restaurants -- the couple jumped at it, although they knew that many restaurants fall flat on their faces within a few months.

But Wiss was starting to get something of a following for his cooking, and he had always wanted to own his own place. He knew he wanted to go to culinary school even when he was in high school. But his parents objected, so he completed a year at Northern Virginia Community College, then dropped out to make $8 an hour working for a caterer in New York.

Now he finally had his own place. He revamped the menu and added personal touches to the food -- he grinds and cures his own sausage and buys produce from local farms. Radius developed a reputation as a cozy neighborhood joint and is packed almost every night.

Alas, on Super Bowl Sunday, the sun casts shadows across mostly open tables. As kickoff approaches, Wiss gets a little nervous. There was a light lunch crowd, and the phone isn't ringing. Then, about 2:30, it does.


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