Michelin-starred chef Gerald Addison has traveled the world. He has developed a passion for eclectic cuisines and turned that love into booming Washington, D.C., eateries, from the Caribbean-inspired Bammy’s to the Middle Eastern Maydan, where any use of a utensil other than your hands is highly discouraged.

Now, he’s opening a pizza parlor.

Bennie’s Pizza and Pub began servicing customers Thursday at 10300 Little Patuxent Parkway in The Mall in Columbia, tens of miles north of his other creations in D.C. In many ways, the pizzeria is unlike anything Addison has taken on before.

Until the pandemic hit in 2020, Addison had never felt particularly passionate about the making of pizza. He knew what tasted good: a slice loaded with parmesan, oregano and red chili flakes, usually with a bit darker, more well-done dough. But once he went into lockdown, everything changed.

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The D.C. native had purchased a pizza oven for his father to experiment with years prior. As the family waited for their time in quarantine to end, they baked pizza.

“It was sort of our safe family activity and within three months, I became completely hooked,” he said.

Addison began reading about the making of dough and learning how to stretch it thin like the slices he had enjoyed while in New York City. He experimented with throwing pizzas and finding the perfect ratio of sauce to cheese.

“It felt like my skill set was almost a little bit irrelevant,” he said. “Everything was foreign to me and I think that’s one of the reasons why I became so entranced by it.”

According to Addison, it’s not difficult to find high-quality dough or the cheese that melts just right. The challenge is in finding a balance.

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Desmond Reilly, owner of Star Restaurant Group, came to Addison in the hope he would help guide the company in opening a pizzeria in Columbia, Maryland, where Reilly said it can be difficult to find a quality slice.

“[Gerald] spent the last two years of his life just doing a deep dive into pizza research up and down the East Coast,” Reilly said.

They decided on a simple menu. Six different slices are being offered, including a margherita version and specialties like the Chicken + Whiskey BBQ Pizza, a nod to Reilly’s Chicken + Whiskey chain, which has a location practically attached to the pizzeria’s hip. Each slice can be made into a pie. Customers also have the option to make their own creation.

The spot opened Thursday at 11 a.m., but closed briefly in the afternoon to allow the eatery to regroup. The first 50 guests were promised a free slice and drink, creating a line out the door.

Inside, Bennie’s Pizza and Pub is decorated like the eateries Reilly frequented while growing up in Queens. A long, wooden bar with an extensive whiskey collection greeted guests as they entered. A small window into the kitchen provided customers with a spot to pick up their slices with a neon-red “Pizza” sign above it. Televisions adorned the multicolored wooden walls and a “Street Fighter” arcade game hugged a back corner decorated with highly saturated ’80s album covers.

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The pizza is hand-tossed by four chefs, and while Addison is not always in the kitchen, he plans to make weekly trips “coaching” the other employees through the craft. He also said he checks in on the quality of their ingredients and ensures they’re finding balance where it’s required.

“Obviously, you got to let the other guys who are making pizzas every day learn, but I’m still pretty in love with this hobby,” he said.

“There’s never a time where I don’t want to make pizza.”

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