In his tiny, unadorned takeout pizza shop on Girard Avenue, Joe Beddia placed peeled garlic cloves, one by one, on a small scale. When it read 40 grams, he crushed them into a plastic pail loaded with two large cans of crushed Jersey tomatoes, added salt and olive oil, stirred it, and sealed the lid.
Meanwhile at noon Thursday, the line outside Pizzeria Beddia grew to 10 people along Shackamaxon Street — a full five hours before opening. The two guys who had arrived an hour before held the front of the line.
Beddia’s customers are seeking a final pizza fix. That’s “final” with an asterisk.
Pizzeria Beddia will close after the last 16-inch, New York-style round pie hits its box Saturday night, after five years. Beddia expects to open in a larger space later this year about three blocks away.
Beddia, who worked for free at some of America’s top-rated pizzerias to learn the craft, has been scaling recipes to prepare for the new location, on Lee Street near Front.
“We’re going from zero seats to a hundred,” Beddia said, by now turning to making bean soup for lunch for himself and helper John Walker. It also will have a bar.
Right now, his customers tend to snarf their pizza while standing at his counter or take pies to go, risking major laundry issues or worse as they succumb to temptation and dig into the box on the front seat on the way home.
Beddia — say it “beh-DEE-ya” — said the pizza would taste the same in his new location. He will use a similar deck oven and the same tomatoes and Old Gold cheese. This has not calmed the feeding frenzy on Girard Avenue.
Why camp out for hours?
“This guy is making them one pie at a time,” says Dave Haley, 40, of Wilmington, a general manager with 84 Lumber, who was second in line on Thursday. “There must be love in it.”
Pizza has enjoyed a certain mystique in the area. More than two decades ago, Tacconelli’s Pizzeria in Port Richmond began insisting that customers call after 9 a.m. to reserve dough for that evening. On many days, Tacconelli’s sells out, still.
Beddia, having been accorded rock-star status, has managed to elevate the mere potential inconvenience into the circle of waiting hell usually only experienced outside an Apple store.
For starters, you can’t call in an order, because the shop has no phone. It’s open only four nights a week. Beddia makes only 40 doughs a night; he said he has no time or capacity to make more. When Beddia wants time off, he simply closes, posting notices on social media. Oh, and it’s cash only.
After deciding not to renew his lease last year as he turned 40, Beddia explained his work life: “I’m here 60 hours a week for my four days a week. I come in at 8:30 a.m. and work till 11:30 at night. And then on Tuesday [a day off], I’m here, doing orders, paying bills, and making dough. It’s not like I have a regular life.”
For Pizzeria Beddia’s first two years, one could show up an hour before opening and be reasonably assured dinner. Then came Bon Appetit. In June 2015, the food magazine proclaimed Beddia’s pizza to be the best in America, and lines started building earlier.
Haley’s coworker Patrick White, 25, first in line Thursday, enjoyed Beddia’s pizza just last Saturday. That day, White arrived at 2 p.m., ordered the 37th and 38th pies when the shop opened at 5 p.m., and returned to pick them up at 9:50 p.m. The commitment was “totally worth it,” he said.
As the line grew Thursday, Walker paused his prep work and stepped outside to query customers about their orders. In midafternoon, he determined who would get the 40th pizza.
At 5:38 p.m., the evening’s orders taken, Walker taped up a “sold out” sign to the front door while Beddia stretched dough, topped pizzas, and tended the oven.
A few patrons, denied pizzas, nonetheless opened the door to get a free sniff and walked off happy.