Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which we roam the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Since its doors opened nearly 11 years ago, Peter Pastan's 2 Amys has been considered DC's top pizzeria. So when Hakan Ilhan from La Forchetta, the newest Neapolitan-styled eatery said back in March that his pizza would blow away his Cleveland Park rivals, manager Debbie Johnson said she and the rest of the team at 2 Amys were not worried. "Good for them for trying," she says. "We'll see. We give our customers a great experience so that's why I don't feel like the restaurant is a threat." Then, with a laugh and sass, she adds: "We know we're the best."
Named after the two Amys in Pastan's life—his wife and Amy Morgan, his longtime friend and business partner—the restaurant always attracts a heavy crowd, especially during weekends. Johnson, who's nearing her 10th anniversary with the pizza place, continues to be amazed that people love the food. She dishes out the best way to make the long wait bearable, the famous out-of-towners who come in for a casual treat, and the best way gatekeepers manage the stress during rush hour.
Say it's 8 p.m. on a Saturday. What's the wait for a table?
It ranges anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. Depending on the size of your party.
Is there anything I can say or do to make my wait shorter?
Yes. Come back to the bar, where you'll usually find me. Grab a drink and a snack from the wine bar. It will make the wait seem like nothing.
What's the best way to get your dinner quickly?
What's really great is that once people are seated, it doesn't take that long to get their pizza. When the restaurant is at full capacity, there's a little bit of wait. But it's not like you're going to be sitting there waiting for a steak. If there are people sitting at the bar waiting for their table, I always offer them an appetizer. If they want to look over the menu and specials, I'll let them see what they want to pick out. The turnover is so high. When they sit down, a lot of people are ready to order because they're repeat customers.
Tell me about your favorite customers.
I have my Saturday regulars, Hamilton and Paullette, who have been coming in for years. They come here like clockwork on Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. They usually get the special appetizer and special pizza. They like for me to pick out a beer or wine. It's awesome. They hang out on Saturdays.
Isn't everyone a VIP? [Laughs] Let's see. There have been famous people. [Vice President Joe] Biden, President Obama's daughters have both been in at separate times with friends. Rosie Perez came in a few years. Joe Torre from the Yankees. Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons [from Top Chef] have eaten at 2 Amys. Norah O'Donnell [from CBS] and [husband] Chef Geoff Tracy are regulars, as well as Eun Yang [from NBC Washington] and family every Saturday.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables left?
We treat all of our customers the same. If Mr. President stopped by, I'm sure we would work something out.
What's the most outrageous request you haven't been able to accommodate?
There have been a few requests for ranch dressing to dip pizza crust in. I don't understand it.
Where are you eating when you're not here?
I'm a homebody most of the time. I love to cook and eat with my husband, John, and best-friends, Crystal and Scott, at least on one of my days off. But when I go out, I love to go to Estadio, Oyamel, Taqueria Poblano, the Standard, Obelisk, Bar Pilar and late-night oysters at Old Ebbitt.
What are the gatekeeper tools you need to have for your job?
Patience and always try to remember to have fun. It is a restaurant and we take our jobs seriously. But if you're not having fun while you're doing it, what's the point? And patience because things get a little hectic. You just have to take a deep breath and say, "We're going to get through this."