BY KRISSI HUMBARD — Art and pizza lovers rejoice! The much-anticipated, long-awaited Hyattsville locations of Art Works Now and Pizzeria Paradiso are opening soon.
The nonprofit community art studio and the popular pizza restaurant will share the space that once housed the Marché Florist at 4800 Rhode Island Ave. Art Works Now is set to open in its new home in June, with Pizzeria Paradiso following in late June.
“Our staff has worked so hard and our board has been so supportive,” said Barbara Johnson, founder and executive director of Art Works Now. “We’re all so excited to be on the verge of realizing this longtime dream.”
Art Works will occupy the bulk of the space on the main level. Johnson says the new space has two studio classrooms: one for general art-making, with a focus on two-dimensional work, and the other for sculpture, with a focus on clay. There will be a new gallery at the very front of the space that includes movable walls for flexibility in exhibitions and use of the space. The basement will house a storage space and kilns to support the new ceramics program.
“The fun part about where we are now, is that you can really see all the work come together,” said Ruth Gresser, chef and owner of Pizzeria Paradiso. “And so that heightens the anticipation and excitement.”
Pizzeria Paradiso will have about 2,000 square feet on the main level to house the pizza kitchen and bar area and dining room. Gresser said the dining room will have about 60 seats. There will be about 15 seats at the beer bar, which is set at an exterior wall. A repurposed window has been turned into an exterior bar with 5 seats. There will also be about 12 seats outside at the front of the building.
“The inside space on the main level is a little bigger than our original location in 1991 was,” Gresser said. “It’s sort of reminiscent of our roots.”
As for the decor, Gresser said, “it was really important in the designing of it, that it says to people ‘this is a creative space.’” Pizzeria Paradiso has partnered with Art Works Now and the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council to have local artists create the art pizzas that will adorn the walls. Also, local artist Valerie Theberge covered the wood-fired pizza oven’s dome with a mosaic flame design.
“It’s a small space, so there’s not going to be a whole lot of room for embellishment so we focused on the pizzas decorating the space and the pizza oven, which are both Pizzeria Paradiso signature items,” Gresser said.
The food menu at the Hyattsville location will be the same as the other locations. But Gresser said the beer menus vary, depending on the location’s clientele. And to honor their jump into a new state, Gresser said they plan to open with a “ very Maryland-focused beer menu.”
This will be the fourth Pizzeria Paradiso location, and the first in Maryland.
“We’re excited, just like, I think, everyone else is,” said Gresser. “The project itself has been a long, long process and each step has gotten us closer.”
The long process started in 2012 when Johnson, who grew up in Hyattsville, stumbled upon the vacant Marché Florist building. The building was bought and plans were made in 2013, but the two businesses ran into some hurdles when the Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Committee voted to classify the former Marché Florist building as a historic site. Johnson and Gresser appealed the decision with the Prince George’s County Council, which overturned the site’s historic designation in 2014. This put the project back on track and they broke ground in July of 2015.
Johnson said they had just begun looking at the design and material options for renovating the building in September of 2015, when disaster struck. A thief stole a tow truck and crashed it into the greenhouse of the building. It was destroyed.
“The loss of the greenhouse has been the most poignant part of this journey,” Johnson said. “It was an emotional loss.”
Johnson said she plans to honor the greenhouse structure in many ways: The first is a painted outline that exists where the greenhouse attached to the building. The outdoor work/play space will be enclosed by an “art grid,” making the space into an outdoor room. The space will include the Imagination Playground that Art Works received through a grant from Dr. Pepper/Snapple and Kaboom!. Johnson said she also sees the outdoor space including lots of container gardens “because the greenhouse inspired so much in our curriculum planning and we want to honor both the greenhouse and the original use of the building as a flower shop.”
“We’re really trying to maximize all of the spaces with flexible design and furnishings so we can meet the needs of our community in creating a gathering space for lots of celebrations,” Johnson said.
Along with the new space, Art Works is planning to expand its programming to offer an after-school program beginning in the fall, along with programs for seniors and individuals with mobility challenges. Johnson said there will also be evening and Saturday classes, workshops including a teen digital imaging program, adult ceramics classes in the evenings, an intergenerational open studio evening program, drawing and painting skills classes for older elementary and middle school kids, clay classes for kids, and a new monthly feature “Wining Wednesdays” where adults can have a glass of wine (or two) and make art with their friends. Art Works will also continue its current programs: Toddler Time, Parents’ Night Out, summer camps, individual lessons with children, teens, and adults, and work in local schools.
And with the first Parents’ Night Out scheduled for June 2, there really isn’t long to wait.
“It feels like we are moments away from one enormous joyful exhale!” Johnson said.