WASHINGTON — Peter Pastan can never quite recall the exact date in September, 2001 he opened his Northwest D.C. pizzeria 2 Amys.
But there is one date he will always remember: July 8, 2018.
“There’s kind of a rule in the restaurant business that you never answer your phone on a Sunday morning because it’s never anything good,” Pastan said.
That Sunday, he broke the rule and learned that his beloved neighborhood restaurant was flooding after a pipe burst. By the time he arrived, just a few minutes later, the water in the basement was a few feet high.
“It was really impressive how quickly it filled up,” said Pastan, who is also the former owner of Obelisk in Dupont Circle.
The flood destroyed the restaurant’s equipment and wine inventory, and forced Pastan to close for three months. Now, 2 Amys is back up and running (it reopened at the end of September), much to the delight of its regulars from the neighborhood.
“[The number of regulars we have] became pretty apparent to me when I spent two months just kind of sitting in the front window without any electricity as people wandered by. A lot of people would stop in just to say hello,” Pastan said.
Diners familiar with 2 Amys won’t be surprised by its present-day menu. The staff swapped out a few pizzas, starters and sides, but Pastan said 90 percent of the menu is the same. However, the 2 Amys’ crew took the closure as an opportunity to revamp the restaurant’s wine list, making the switch from lesser-known Southern Italian varieties to Italian classics.
“‘Everything old is new again’ was our theme for redoing things,” Pastan said.
Pastan also put a new floor in the pizza oven and hung art in the bathroom — a collage an employee made from the labels of the damaged wine bottles. (If you’re curious about the best way to remove a wine label, Pastan said it’s in a 250-degree oven for 10 minutes.)
“We tried a lot of different methods and that, by far, works the best,” he said.
Not only did 2 Amys survive the flood this summer, but it’s also weathered D.C.’s recent restaurant boom. These days, diners have more choices than ever and businesses have more competition. But throughout its 17 years, the dining room at 2 Amys has stayed full; most weekends, there’s a wait.
Pastan attributes 2 Amys’ success to a few things. First, it’s family-friendly. (He jokes the hours of 5 to 6:30 p.m. are “screaming-kid time.”) And for “straightforward cooking” with quality ingredients (Pastan even sources whole cows from a Pennsylvania dairy farm), 2 Amys’ prices are lower than most others in the area.
“I think that makes us really special,” Pastan said.
There’s also Pastan’s persevering personality. When the flood happened, he didn’t even consider shuttering the pizzeria — and he didn’t wait around for the insurance money.
The day of the damage, Pastan called up an architect and scheduled a contractor for the next day. A lot of his employees, who were paid during the time of the repairs, stuck around to help with the demolition and rebuilding.
“It was a nice way to spend time with people at work doing different things than you normally do,” Pastan said.
If flooding or another catastrophe happens again, Pastan said he is prepared.
“Restaurants, all they are is just solving daily problems,” he said.
“Things are always breaking and people are mad about things and you do stupid stuff — it’s just problem solving more than anything else. And you do a little cooking in between.”