Patrons pay last tributes to College Park landmark
By Mark Goodson
College Park’s Ledo Restaurant, better known as Ledo’s, closed permanently on Sunday, Nov. 22. The restaurant locked its doors two hours earlier than usual that day because they ran out of food, after three consecutive nights that saw carryout lines stretching around the block.
Several patrons on line spoke to the College Park Here & Now about their fond memories of Ledo’s.
“It’s sad,” said Sedaria Jackson, who described coming to Ledo’s as a family tradition. Jackson had to leave the line on Saturday without her pizzas, but returned Sunday and waited two hours to place her order and another hour to pick it up.
Zakia Boston was taking pizza home to her 96-year-old grandmother. “This is a family memory for us,” she said. When she was young, Boston’s father took her to Ledo’s every Friday night.
“It’s just another thing in 2020, you know?” said Sarah Starrett, adding, “We’ve been coming here for 30 years.” She said that she was heartbroken about the closing.
Vittorio Lara used to live in Trinidad and Tobago. When he moved to the United States, he lived next door to the original Ledo’s in Adelphi. “It’s the best pizza in the world,” Lara said, adding, “We saw the owners over time. They’re wonderful.”
No one we spoke to was upset about the wait time. Instead, people were upset that they were waiting at Ledo’s for the final time.
Ledo Pizza System Inc.’s pizzas are served now at 106 locations, but the College Park restaurant, which has been considered the franchise’s flagship since Tommy Marcos Jr. moved it to the city in 2010, remains a fan favorite.
Tommy Marcos Sr. and Bob Beall founded Ledo Restaurant in 1955. Marcos Sr. stuck with the original restaurant in Adelphi when his partners began franchising the pizza in 1989.
According to a city press release, Chesapeake Hospitality, of Greenbelt, will open a new Ledo franchise in College Park in 2021.
The closing of the city’s franchise marks the end of an era, as those who waited hours for one final meal can attest.
The sale was in the works before the novel coronavirus pandemic. Sources said that employees were told that their last day would be March 30 of this year. But negotiations for the sale fell through. Sources also told the Here & Now that Uber Eats and DoorDash provided employees with tablets to help them process sales during the summer, when continued restrictions due to the pandemic hampered business.
While the restaurant was negotiating with other buyers, employees were told on Oct. 26 they could no longer use the tablets to sell Ledo Pizza System Inc.’s pizza. Sources told the Here & Now that the franchise would not allow Ledo Restaurant to sell its pizzas through a third party.
The next week, Ledo’s cut its carryout staff. “People kept asking why they can’t carry out pizza,” said one employee.
According to the Washington Post, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones were all patrons, as were Yogi Berra and Johnny Unitas. The Oprah Winfrey Show filmed an episode at Ledo’s Adelphi location.
But the College Park location did not boast signed portraits of rock stars or celebrities on its walls. Instead, it boasted its ties to local sports.
“President Raegan could have showed up and they would have saved Morgan’s table,” said longtime patron Pete Strickland. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Morgan Wootten and his staff ate at Ledo’s after virtually every game.
“Wherever we played that night, we headed to Ledo’s afterward,” said Strickland, who coached with Wootten at DeMatha before his long collegiate coaching career.
According to tradition, once Wootten took his red flair pen and turned over his placement, it was all business. “That’s when the wives would roll their eyes and head for the exit,” said Strickland. “It was strictly basketball for two or three hours after that.”
Exactly how many of Wootten’s 1,274 wins began on the back of a Ledo’s placement?
“It didn’t matter if we beat the team by 50,” Strickland said. “That was the routine.”
Dan Hewins credits those placemat sessions as the spark of his lifelong career in basketball coaching.
Hewins, who met his wife at Ledo’s, brought his freshman team there for an end-of-the-year meal. He remembers legendary Terp head coach Lefty Driesell walking in and asking Hewin’s high school freshman players if any of them could play defense. “Did you see how bad we were last night?” Hewins remembered Driesell as saying.
Hewins recalled when Wootten’s staff was left with a bar tab from all the visitors who celebrated and left early. “Coaches aren’t paid that great,” Hewins recalled. They were short on cash that night. “Morgan just said, ‘put it on my tab.’”
“Tommy and his dad, they were always around,” said Strickland when asked what it was that made the restaurants so special. “That and the pastry flour crust,” he added.
The comfortable atmosphere at Ledo’s continued into its final days.
“It’s a great place to work,” said Cindy McManes, who waited tables for the last 4 years of Ledo’s operation. “Their rules are simple and realistic,” she said, adding, “You got a table, and you were free to make that table yours. You could be yourself.”
Her husband Chris and their children Kasey, Ally and Tyler all worked at the College Park restaurant.
Cindy’s daughter Kasey recalled business really picking up on Friday, Nov. 20, after the city syndicated its press release about the closing. “The cheese delivery was late that day,” she said. “It was awful timing. But we got on track pretty quick.”
When asked how the restaurant was able to withstand the two-hour lines that final weekend, Kasey said, “It’s just an easy place to work. Nice people.”
There is hope for those who missed Ledo’s final weekend. Gabe Hiatt of DC.Eater.com reported that Marcos Jr. plans on consulting with buyer Chesapeake Hospitality to make sure the beloved pizza stays the same.
Those interviewed disagreed about whether it was the pizza recipes or the ovens that made the College Park Ledo’s pizza superior, but there was one thing everybody agreed on: There is nothing like the original.