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Bethesda Pizzeria’s Rebranding Effort Not An Easy Task

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 7/14/2014, 12:35pm  ET

Pitzze Table's morning coffee, juice and toast bar, via Pitzze Table Pitzze Table's morning coffee, juice and toast bar, via Pitzze Table Pitzze Table, the former Haven Pizzeria on Wisconsin Avenue Pitzze Table's morning coffee, juice and toast bar, via Pitzze Table

This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.

Tiger Mullen took over the former Haven Pizzeria on April 1 and his number one item to fix quickly became one of many dozen to overhaul.

Such is life when you’re trying to completely rebrand and retool an existing restaurant, one that Mullen said had gone downhill after he sold it to a group of minority investors at the end of 2012.

Now, Haven Pizzeria is Pitzze Table (7137 Wisconsin Ave.) and Mullen is still going through a list of to-dos to improve its quality and range of products.

“It is really overwhelming the number of issues that have to be addressed,” Mullen said. “We’re really trying to upscale the whole concept.”

Mullen opened the coal-oven pizzeria concept in February of 2012. Mullen said some of his partners soon wanted to expand. With a general disagreement about how to move forward, Mullen agreed to sell his majority share of the restaurant to shoe partners, who he said went to a new manager and slowly lost what the original Haven Pizzeria was about.

“They were absentee owners who really didn’t understand the concept,” Mullen said.

Customers were starting to notice. Online reviews claimed the pizza and service had gone downhill. In the fall of 2013, Mullen began talks to reacquire ownership of the restaurant, a deal that was completed in time to put him fully in charge starting in April.

Since, Mullen said new management has looked at all the details. Now, pizza dough is required to rest for a 48-hour period before cooking, not the few hours before the lunch or dinner rush that was previously used. Mullen switched out the restaurant’s Italian plum tomatoes for San Marazano tomatoes and went form a mass-produced mozzarella to a fresher, hand-pulled cheese.

“Our customers that had stopped coming in started coming back in and trying the new product,” Mullen said. “We’re working hard on basics nuts and bolts, trying to get things delivered to the table in the right order and in a timely fashion.”

The new name — Pitzze Table — is part of the restaurant’s decor. The new menu and wine list, originally promised for mid-June, will take some more time. Mullen said he hopes to have it implemented by August 1.

“There were just too many other items or issues that needed to be addressed,” Mullen said.

One new facet of Pitzze Table that is up and running is the morning coffee service and toast bar. From 7 a.m.-10 a.m. each day, the bar is converted into a self-serve coffee shop with Zeke’s Coffee products and fresh bread, complete with toasting stations and toppings.

Mullen hasn’t yet been able to widely market the new concept, but it’s taken hold with some folks on the way to work or in need of a place for early morning, out-of-office meetings. Pitzze Table has wireless internet and offers free newspapers, plus a juice bar.

“It’s a little bit different alternative than the typical bagel and pastries that you see in the other coffee shops and delis,” Mullen said. “We really do want to offer something since we do have such a big, attractive facility.”

Some photos via Pitzze Table

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