Philly P to remain open for now, future still uncertain
A six-plus hour hearing to decide the fate of Philly Pizza & Grill? Repeated explanations of the difference between fast-food establishments and restaurants? Arguments about silverware and dishwashing techniques?
All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.
Here’s the abridged version of the hearing held yesterday by the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustments to determine whether Philly P was in violation of its certificate of occupancy and should be closed: those in charge pretty much decided nothing. Time ran out shortly after John Patrick Brown Jr., Philly Pizza’s legal representative, and owner Mehmet Kocak closed their argument. The BZA will convene again to make a decision about the appeal on February 9. In the meantime, Philly P’s will stay open under the conditions of the Stay of Enforcement passed back in November.
The BZA hearing revolved around Kocak’s appeal of the Zoning Regulator’s decision to revoke his business’s Certificate of Occupancy. Kocak sat with his attorney, Brown, armed with photos, non-disposable plates, and desperate words for clemency, all to demonstrate that his restaurant was a sit-down and not take-out affair.
“I have put a lot of time and energy into making sure that people of all ages and nationality can enjoy my restaurant … Nobody told me I was doing anything wrong … I don’t want to burn my bridges,” Kocak said.
Having voted to allow themselves to be witnesses at the appeal, Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chair Ron Lewis and Commissioner Bill Starrels sat at one end of the room, accompanied by attorney Martin Sullivan. On the other side was T. Gail Maddox-Levine, a representative from the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs. Front and center? Kocak and Brown. Seats were sparsely filled with Georgetown residents, eager to testify against Kocak and Philly P’s (spoiler alert: time ran out before any residents testified).
If Brown could convince the BZA that Philly P’s is a restaurant, rather than a fast-food establishment, Kocak would be allowed to continue to sling cheesy slices of ranch soaked pizza for ever and ever. If not, the owners of Tuscany Cafe will dance and celebrate the downfall of a competitor.
Brown argued that Philly P’s fits the criteria of a restaurant, as defined by D.C.: it has no drive-thru, only carry-out customers pay beforehand, dine-in patrons are served on non-disposable dishes, and the majority of the food made on the premises is consumed on the premises. Brown presented a poster full of photographs, depicting families eating at Philly P’s with non-disposable dishes, silverware, and folded napkins. However, the oft-demanded customer statistics compiled by Kocak suggest that only 45 percent of customers, on average, choose to dine-in.
As for the future of Philly’s, not much has changed. Although BZA members will make a decision on February 9, some BZA members seem to have already formed their opinions about the appeal.
“[Kocak] is not 100 percent the victim here,” BZA Vice-Chairman Shane L. Dettman, said.
Zoning Commission member Michael Turnbull was not as kind. He was critical of Kocak’s method of cleaning dishes, suggesting that he still chooses to use disposable dishes once the non-disposable ones are used. Philly P’s does not use a dishwasher, but rather, employees hand-wash the non-disposable dishes used in the restaurant.
“A lack of a dishwasher is indicative of poor planning … What I’m hearing doesn’t make me all warm and comfy,” Turnbull said.
As time ran short—due mostly to procedural babble, but also three false fire alarms and two “short” breaks—the conversation swung towards the Stay of Enforcement set to expire at the end of the appeal. BZA Chairman Marc Loud took a stand on the matter quickly.
“The stay will remain in effect until the completion of the hearing,” Loud said.
Philly P’s lives to defend its appeal for another day. Next time, let’s hope there are fewer fire alarms and more decisions.
Photo from Flickr user Diego Cupolo used under a Creative Commons license.