The original Edgewood Avenue location of Ammazza reopens for Neapolitan pizzas Tuesday, March 19 at 5 p.m. in the Old Fourth Ward. It’s been nearly two years since two separate cars on separate occassions hit the building, forcing the restaurant to close in the summer of 2017, some feared for good — including owner Hugh Connerty.
Ammazza lies just beyond the traffic light at Randolph Street and Edgewood Avenue. Both cars continued straight at the light, slamming into the front of restaurant where diners once placed their pizza orders.
The first car caused extensive damage to the building. A burst water main snapped beneath the floor from the impact. Thousands of gallons of water gushed unrelentingly for almost three hours into and underneath the 100-year-old building, severely eroding the soil beneath the foundation.
“It was the first accident which did all the damage. Water washed out a lot of the soil under the three to four-inch slab. We ended up with four to 18-foot voids underneath it,” Connerty recalls. “We were basically walking over huge sections [of the restaurant] with 12 feet of air in places.”
Several passes by radar equipment confirmed the worst: Ammazza was deemed unsafe to occupy.
Connerty was told to remove everything from the restaurant in order to brace the historic building and repair its foundation. This included two 8,000-pound Acunto pizza ovens imported from Italy. Since the floor couldn’t withstand the weight of a forklift, steel structures were built to lay across the floor to get the ovens out as safely as possible. Everything was then stored in a warehouse while the foundation was repaired and the floor reinstalled.
As the weeks went by, Connerty says he seriously considered relocating Ammazza to The Edge complex (still under construction) next to the Edgewood Avenue bridge along the Beltline.
“The rumors of us considering relocating were true, but I’ve admired this building for decades. We wanted to turn it into a restaurant, and the owner finally allowed us to do that,” Connerty explains. “I just didn’t want to give up on it after all of that effort, and neither did the owner. We decided to stay put.”
Prior to the accidents, Ammazza had taken over the rest of the building and a building next door. The plan was to construct a second kitchen to handle the demand for takeout orders. Connerty realized during the restaurant’s reconstruction the inefficiency of having two kitchens. Instead, the kitchen now includes the entire front of the building, doubling in size with two more pizza ovens and a larger dough room.
Diners enter through the left side of the building and order next door. The dining room remains relatively unchanged. Connerty has plans to eventually add a small events space in back. He’s also working on converting the double-level loading dock into a porch to open this spring, filled with tables walled off by large steel planters and lit by string lights.
In the midst of the reconstruction chaos, Ammazza opened its second location in Decatur last November — a restaurant fraught with its own “bizarre set of setbacks”. The core of the menus for Decatur and Edgewood include Neapolitan-style pizzas, like the fiery Inferno with Calabria peppers and spicy soppressata. They’ve added fresh pastas to the menu at Decatur and hope to begin offering those, along with weekly specials, at Edgewood this spring.
Since opening in 2012, Ammazza has survived the closure of the Edgewood Avenue bridge for 13 months, the Atlanta streetcar rail construction to the west, and Google tearing up surrounding streets to lay fiber in the neighborhood. The trifecta saw sales drop at the restaurant by nearly 60 percent. Still, Ammazza hung on as regulars and area residents managed to find their way through street closures and detours to the restaurant’s front door.
The accidents and the subsequent closure of Ammazza threatened to derail it all again.
“It’s been hard to be optimistic. So many setbacks. So, it’s been great to see all the excitement about our return to Edgewood,” Connerty says. “It’s been so long, I was afraid people were going to say, ‘who are these guys?’ and just give up on us. We’re ready to be back in the neighborhood.”
Open Sunday - Thursday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Ammazza plans to open for weekend lunch in May.