A coal-fired pizza chain based in New Haven, Conn., that is 94 years old, is expanding into Bethesda.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, a family-owned chain in New England and New York state, will open its first Maryland restaurant in Bethesda’s Westfield Montgomery mall.
Lisa Feeney, an administrative assistant with the company, confirmed the future Bethesda location in an interview Thursday morning. She gave no additional details.
WTOP, citing a source familiar with the negotiations, reported the news first on Wednesday that the restaurant would be opening in late 2020.
Frank Pepe, an Italian immigrant, founded Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in 1925 according to the company’s website. After fighting for Italy in World War I, he opened a bakery in downtown New Haven, which later became the pizzeria.
The restaurant first made two types of pizza — one with grated cheese, garlic, oregano and olive oil and the other with anchovies. In the 1960s, the restaurant began serving its signature White Clam Pizza.
Among Pepe’s specialty pizzas are the White Clam and the Original Tomato Pie, which has crushed tomatoes, grated Romano cheese and olive oil. Pizzas range in price from $10 to $31, depending on the size. The restaurant serves 12-, 16- and 18-inch pies, according to its website. Customers can choose their own toppings.
The pizza chain has been passed down through multiple generations of Pepe’s family, according to the website.
It now has seven locations in Connecticut, two in Massachusetts, one in Rhode Island and one in New York.
Washington-area food writer David Hagedorn, who writes for Bethesda Magazine, said in an interview Thursday that Frank Pepe’s opening in Bethesda is “big news for Montgomery County.”
“They are legendary. It would be something terrific if Montgomery County came to be known as a pizza center for the DMV,” he said.
Hagedorn, who has eaten at Frank Pepe’s, said the White Clam Pizza is “really terrific” and the signature mark of Frank Pepe’s pies include a thin crust with charring.
“There’s usually a little char around the edge. It’s delicious. Part of the appeal is the history behind it, because it’s been open since 1925,” he said.
Hagedorn said going to the original New Haven pizzeria is a “pilgrimage” of sorts for food aficionados, and the name recognition will help Frank Pepe’s succeed in the competitive Montgomery County pizza market.
“I think people will make the trip at least once. It’s up to them to go twice. The proof is in the pizza,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org