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There’s one sure way to know when Congress reaches a crisis point: young aides start wheeling in pallets of pizza.
It’s a rite of high-stakes, late-night negotiations, like the one unfolding now over the debt ceiling, and it puts Michelene Mendelsohn on alert. She’s the deputy CEO of the Sunnyside Restaurant Group, which includes a trio of restaurants just steps from the Capitol Hill and House offices: a New York-style pizzeria (We, The Pizza), burger and shake joint (Good Stuff Eatery), and a taco stop (Santa Rosa Taqueria).
“We’re only two blocks away from the Capitol and we’re on the House side, so whenever anything like that happens, or if they’re in session, we always have staff at the ready,” said Mendelsohn.
As the House speaker fight dragged on into the evening of Jan. 6, for example, and a late night vote neared, several dozen We, The Pizza boxes were rolled into the Capitol. Days earlier the would-be speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) brought in pies from Wiseguy Pizza.
As of Thursday afternoon We, The Pizza had yet to get a major order from the Capitol during the latest standoff, Mendelsohn said, though the most intense period of negotiations, arm-twisting and potential late-night votes are likely to unfold in the coming week, as Congress runs up to the June 1 debt limit deadline.
Mendelsohn knows to make sure her staff is ready when there’s a big deal going down, she said. And it helps to have three restaurants all together on the Hill — in case they need to dispatch extra workers to help roll out dough and get lawmakers fed.
“When there are negotiations we’ll make extra pizzas for sure, because inevitably there’s an extra 50 to 60 pizzas ordered,” Mendelsohn said in a recent phone interview. She was in Mexico for business, but had one eye on the debt machinations.
We, The Pizza is one of a handful of eateries on or around the Hill that lawmakers call on when they face lengthy talks and few breaks.
“At some point, when it looks like you’re going to be here all night and you’re not going to have a break to get anything to eat you need to eat, not just members but staff as well,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, which often meets deep into the evening. He recommended the turkey club from another Capitol Hill haunt, Mr. Henry’s.
His counterpart, Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said of the late night sustenance, “I enjoy having a cigar more than anything else.”
In her last year as speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ordered from We, The Pizza at least seven times, according to public spending reports, with orders ranging from about $212 to $780. Large pies at the shop go for $26.
The largest House order in last year’s reports was $2,477 from the Democratic Caucus, then chaired by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who is now minority leader. A spokesperson said it was for a staff appreciation event for the House tri-caucus, which includes the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
As big orders come in, We, The Pizza typically sends out 30 at a time. Being so close to the Capitol, Mendelsohn said they’re accustomed to big orders from school groups or other tourists, along with lawmakers and staff.
“We’re so used to it,” she said. “It’s very nice to get an order of 50 pizzas at like 10 o’clock at night. That’s a win.”
They also get some famous and powerful guests. Justice Sonia Sotomayor came for a celebration shortly after her confirmation to the Supreme Court, Mendelsohn said. President Barack Obama visited Good Stuff, which at the time had a burger named for him. Two presidencies later, the burger with bacon, onion marmalade and roquefort cheese is now just the “Prez Burger.”
We, The Pizza’s largest delivery ever to the Capitol was 120 pies — most of them donated by the restaurant — for National Guard stationed at the building after the Jan. 6, 2021 riot.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, disclosures for last year show that two of the most frequent customers are the offices of two New Yorkers: Republican Nicole Malliotakis, of Staten Island, and Democrat Jamaal Bowman, from Yonkers.
“New York pizza’s the best in the world, and that goes without saying,” Bowman said. “D.C. pizza’s pretty darn good though. It’s pretty darn good.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tamari at email@example.com