Reston, Va.-based Thompson Hospitality, the force behind such bars and restaurants as Hen Quarter, Matchbox, The Delegate, Austin Grill, and American Tap Room, just added another big name to its portfolio: essential pie chain Wiseguy Pizza.
Thompson finalized an agreement this week to acquire all four area Wiseguy locations (Chinatown, Navy Yard, Rosslyn, and Pentagon City), Thompson Hospitality president and CEO Warren Thompson tells Eater.
Some pizza aficionados argue that Wiseguy is the closest thing D.C. has to a true New York-style pizzeria. The decade-old chain is known for its thin slices, potent garlic knots, and chicken rolls, along with square Sicilian pies and cheesecake straight from NYC. Wiseguy founder Nuri Erol maintains a significant equity stake in the company, and diehard fans need not to fret — the menu will remain unchanged, Thompson says.
“Nuri is very much involved in protecting the integrity of the brand. Going forward, we won’t open a new unit unless he’s in agreement,” says Thompson. Erol will also have final say on any menu additions or tweaks. The purchase price is undisclosed.
Thompson’s portfolio now includes 15 distinct brands with 44 locations. One headliner is Matchbox, which Thompson bought in 2018 with an $11 million pledge to grow the homegrown pizza chain. There’s 12 locations today, with one just blocks from the Wiseguy in Pentagon City.
“People might say, why would you buy Wiseguy if you have Matchbox? It’s quite a different concept, experience, and style of pizza,” explains Thompson.
Wood-fired Matchbox outposts serve booze, cater to dine-in crowds, and are generally much bigger (Pentagon City’s outpost is a massive 12,000 square feet, whereas Wiseguy is 1,200 square feet). Wiseguy also offers pizza by the slice whereas Matchbox does not, he adds.
Thompson is already scouring for additional Wiseguy sites in the D.C. market and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which would mark Wiseguy’s the first expansion outside of the area. Matchbox and NoVa burger bar Big Buns both made a jump to South Florida under Thompson’s watch. A new full-service Matchbox is en route to McLean, Va. this year.
A smaller, fast-casual offshoot called Slice of Matchbox debuted in the city of Fairfax this month. Thompson confirms fresh leases at the Wharf for a Slice of Matchbox to go next to a new Milk & Honey, which is one of Thompson’s newer fast-growing brands.
After its 2015 debut in Beltsville, Md., Milk & Honey Cafe embarked on a quick expansion streak across the area. Thompson Hospitality’s 2020 acquisition of the popular soul food chain spawned “Milk & Honey.”
There’s now five Milk and Honey locations under the Thompson umbrella, and that count will double by the end of the year; look for openings in Clinton, Md., Dulles, Va., Fairfax, Va., and Waldorf, Md. One of Milk & Honey’s original founders, Food Network star Sammy Davis, is still in the loop and makes cooking appearances at Thompson’s new outposts.
“It’s an important piece to keep the roots and core of what Milk & Honey is all about,” says Michael Katigbak, a ThinkFoodGroup and Boqueria alum who joined Thompson as VP of marketing this year.
A fifth Milk & Honey is slated for Petersburg, Va. as part of Thompson’s dining services partnership with top-ranked HBCU Virginia State University (Thompson Hospitality provides food services for both universities and corporations under a separate business arm).
“This fall students can leave campus and use their meal card at Milk and Honey,” says Thompson. “In many situations we try to put our retail brands close to some of our colleges and universities.”
Thompson clients also include Northern Virginia-based tycoons University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Inova Health System, and Capital One, which could all get their own slice of Wiseguy. (Its gluten-free cauliflower crust and vegan offerings are also appealing to a healthcare account like Inova, notes Thompson.)
“Wiseguy bodes well in hospital settings, corporate dining, and colleges,” says Thompson, adding “clients in the market are already familiar with the brand.”
Thompson is in talks with Amazon to put some of its restaurants into HQ2, he adds. Thompson is also behind Reston pub Makers Union and Springfield, Va.’s Willie T’s Seafood Shack, which are expected to announce expansion plans soon.
Under its new parent company, Wiseguy associates gain perks like access to a 401k, insurance, and college scholarships for their kids — which is “a unique offering for a company,” says Thompson.
“I’m very happy with the opportunities and benefits this partnership will afford Wiseguy employees and for the development of upcoming projects and new concepts,” says Erol, in a statement.