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In rare pandemic comeback, Baltimore’s Joe Squared pizza to reopen as worker-owned cooperative

Joe Squared, the pizza place on Baltimore’s North Avenue, is opening up at the same location after having been closed for months. Staff teased the news on Instagram this week, sharing a cryptic video of a hand flicking on four light switches.

General manager Okan Arabacıoğlu says the eatery is set to serve customers in about two weeks, depending on permitting and other issues. The business’ liquor license, for example, has expired after six months without use and their internet has been disconnected. Employees were in the process of deep cleaning the restaurant. It will initially open as a takeout and delivery-only operation, he said.

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The comeback was far from a given; staff cleared out the walk-in refrigerator in March when the pandemic hit, and assumed it would never reopen. But owners were able to procure grants and loans to reopen, said Arabacıoğlu, and renegotiate their lease. He came back this week for the first time in months.

“It kind of feels unreal in a way,” said Arabacıoğlu. “We said our goodbyes and now we’re back.”

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Once reopen, the restaurant will transition into a worker-owned cooperative, following a model used by local businesses like Red Emma’s, Baltimore Bicycle Works and Thread Coffee, according to a news release. That gives each worker a say in how the business is run. Future plans include expanding outdoor dining and adding a small store.

Famous for its square pizza, Joe Squared has been an institution in Station North. In 2012, it was featured on the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” After opening in 2005, the eatery moved one block east in 2015, to its current post at 33 W. North Ave.

Still, after a long shutdown, returns are rare in the restaurant industry, and experts say that most places that have been closed since March are likely to stay that way. The National Restaurant Association says that 1 in 6 restaurants has closed permanently or long-term, and that 40% of owners believe their restaurants may not survive until February of next year.

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