New pizzeria coming to Hampden

Kelly Beckham stands outside the former Hampden Republican Club building May 20. He plans to open Paulie Gee's, a New York-style pizzeria there. (Photo by Steve Ruark / May 30, 2013)

Parking issues are holding up plans for a New York-style pizzeria with live music in Hampden.

Kelly Beckham, 44, of Butchers Hill, said he wants to open Paulie Gee's Hampden this summer on the first floor of the former Hampden Republican Club building at 3535 Chestnut Ave. The 125-seat, 6,000-square-foot eatery would have outdoor seating and would specialize in non-traditional pizzas like braised fennel and fresh mozzerella with anisette cream drizzle.

The pizzeria would be named for a friend, Paul Giannone, who owns a highly successful, three-year-old pizzeria in Brooklyn, N.Y., Beckham said.

He said Giannone is looking to open others as franchises, to eventually "form a community of people who are passionate about pizza."

"I'm the first franchisee," Beckham said, but added that he will have a lot more flexibility about what goes on the menu.

Paulie Gee's Hampden would have two wood-fired ovens. It would also serve seasonal pizzas, salads, charcuterie and cheese plates, and desserts from other local restaurants, including The Charmery, a new ice cream parlor that is plannned to open in mid-July across the street, in the former Chestnut AID pharmacy, Beckham said. He said he is also considering making breads and pretzels.

He said he plans to serve beer, wine and specialty cocktails and is applying for a permit to have live music. But he stressed in interviews and in a presentation to the Hampden Community Council on May 20 that he would not book loud rock bands and that the restaurant would have limited hours — 6-11 p.m. Tuesday thought Thursday; 6 p.m. to midnight Friday; 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday; 4-10 p.m. Sunday; and closed Monday.

"We're not going to be disrespectful to the neighbors," he told the council.

He also plans to do special events and offer carryout service, but not delivery, at least for now, because the type of pizzas he would make do not lend themselves to delivery, he said.

Beckham said he and his family visit Hampden often and that it has "the vibe" he is looking for.

"We're a pizza joint. It's Hampden," he said.

Beckham also said he would be filling a niche in a neighborhood known for more traditional pizzerias such as Angelo's, best known for offering what it claims is the world's largest individual slice of pizza.

"There wasn't a good, sit-down, wood-fired pizzeria in the core of Hampden," he said.

'Zero parking spaces'

A hearing before the Baltimore City zoning board was scheduled for May 14, but was postponed, because the Hampden Community Council is questioning whether Paulie Gee's has sufficient parking, Beckham said. The hearing has not been rescheduled yet, city officials said.

"The Hampden Community Council wanted some more clarification on what our plans were for parking," Beckham said. He said that George Peters Jr., chairman of the community council's zonng committee, is seeking a signed memorandum of understanding for an as yet unspecified number of spaces.

The problem, Beckham said, is that, "We have zero parking spaces. The building takes up the entire lot."

He said he is not required to have any parking spaces for the site, but is committing to providing parking for at least 15 cars. He said he would likely have to offer valet parking and strike deals with owners of nearby parking lots to use them at night, when the owners don't need them.

"It's a lot more expensive," he said.

But Beckham said angering the community would be worse than spending the extra money.

"From a business perspective, if you raise the ire of the residential community, (it's) not going to bode well" for the restaurant, Beckham said. "I don';t want that. That's part of the reason I wanted to be in Hampden to begin with. I want that close-kit community. And I don't want a lack of parking. But it has to make financial sense. There's got to be a happy medium. I want to work with George and the community to come to a solution."

Peters predicted the process would come to a mutually beneficial resolution.

"We should have it sorted out on our end within the next 4-5 days," Peters said. He said the council is raising the issue because parking is hard to come by in Hampden and the restaurant has the potential to draw a lot of customers.

"We are working diligently with Kelly Beckham to insure Paulie Gee's Hampden will be great new addition to the Hampden business community without putting an undo strain on surrounding business and residential parking areas," Peters said in an e-mail. "Ultimately, what is good for Hampden will be good for Paulie Gee's and vice versa."

Beckham told the Hampden Community Council, "The reason I'm here is that I want it to be known that I am willing to do something to help mitigate the situation."