Two pizza restaurants in Damascus have applied to serve beer and wine following the historic Nov. 6 referendum vote to lift the community’s long-standing ban on serving alcohol.
The first to apply was New York J&P Pizza on Ridge Road in the Weis shopping center. The 120-seat restaurant is set for a hearing Feb. 7.
Second to apply was Ledo Pizza on Main Street in the Damascus Shopping Center. The 100-seat restaurant is set for a hearing on Feb. 21.
The county Board of License Commissioners will hold the morning hearings in the County Office Building in Rockville before issuing a written decision for each application.
Damascus has been a dry town since its founding in 1884, with residents voting down alcohol referendums in 1933, 1976, 1984, 1992 and 1996 before the reversal in November, when the measure passed by a 2 to 1 margin.
“There’s been a big celebration,” said Tina Kiima, who manages New York J&P Pizza, which has been doing business in Damascus for two decades.
“After 20 years, you’re almost ready not to have it, but people have been asking,” said Kiima, a Mount Airy resident.
“One man has called and said he wants to be the first one to be drinking beer,” Kiima said.
“You almost have to do it [for competitive reasons], and we want to do it for our customers.”
Kiima is a member of the Illiano family, which also owns pizza restaurants in Mount Airy, Frederick, Taylorsville, Eldersburg, Finksburg and Scaggsville, all in Maryland.
There are no major renovations planned for the Damascus site, which reserves space for children’s pizza parties on one side of the restaurant while leaving tables free for adults on the other.
“We’re not planning any changes at this time,” Kiima said. “We’re pretty well set up.”
“I’ve been waiting for this,” she said. “It’s a small little town, and it just doesn’t make sense [not to be able to serve beer and wine].”
Business neighbor All American Bicycles, a few doors away in the shopping center, also welcomes the change.
Owner Matthew McGoey said he doesn’t expect new pizza customers to necessarily visit his business because of it, but he does think the new beer and wine law will help Damascus develop with more restaurants, which will help keep shoppers in the community and boost his business in the long run.
“I think it will help . . . make the community more vibrant and vital,” he said.
Also family-owned and run, Ledo Pizza has been in the Damascus Shopping Center 15 years.
Co-owner James Mahoney Jr. said he doesn’t think beer and wine sales will constitute a large percentage of sales.
“I think initially it will be a total novelty thing,” Mahoney said, “ . . . but I honestly don’t know that it will bring in droves of people.”
Mahoney and his son, James Mahoney III, also own two Ledo Pizza restaurants in Frederick.
There will be some initial costs training staff, but like New York J&P, James Mahoney Jr. said he doesn’t anticipate major or costly changes in the layout of the restaurant if a license is granted.
“I don’t see it being the boon that a lot of people think it is,” he said.
“I want to keep my customers happy but not have a drinking hole, believe me.”