Renee Moore of Temple Hills was only partly serious when she told her pizza-loving boyfriend that he should start a club.
But Jeff McQueen, a pizza connoisseur who said he eats some several times a week, decided to follow her advice last spring. The couple founded Pizza Addicts Anonymous, a group that has expanded to around 150 members since April.
McQueen, 52, of Takoma Park, said pizza represents his childhood in New York, the nostalgia of comfort food, and the New York mentality of “have what you want, when you want it.”
McQueen is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service and works close to the original Ledo Pizza in College Park, which he frequents several times a month, he said.
Moore, 43, and McQueen said they were surprised to see how much interest PAA sparked, especially since they did nothing to promote the group.
Around 10 members of the group attend individual events every month, which range from visiting pizza restaurants to celebrating pizza holidays such as Vegan Pizza Day in June.
“I’m his enabler,” Moore said.
Before dating McQueen, Moore said, she would typically buy pizza from Dominos or Pizza Hut, although she didn’t eat it very often.
“He showed me the error of my ways,” she said. “It’s a whole little subculture that people don’t know about.”
Moore and McQueen visit various pizza shops every month for what they call “research” to decide where to bring the club on their next outing.
Moore enjoys going out with the group, but said she is not an addict.
“To be honest, sometimes I go and I don’t eat pizza at all,” she said. “I just can’t eat that much pizza.”
Moore said it is common for members of the group to order a whole pizza pie for each person. A group favorite is Margherita, which is topped with fresh basil, tomatoes and cheese, she said.
One of the club’s favorite restaurants is Pasta Plus Restaurant and Italian Market in Laurel.
Manager Max Mazziotti, who owns the restaurant with his brother Sabatino, came to the U.S. from Italy in 1958 and opened the restaurant about 14 years later.
Mazziotti, 70, said he has seen the pizza industry become more specialized and competitive since moving to this country.
“People now, they know more. They pay more attention,” he said. “They expect more from a restaurant, and if you don’t deliver, they’ll go to another place.”
Pizza Addicts Anonymous members come from all over the greater D.C. area. They range from college students looking for a slice and some beer to Italian women in their 50s and 60s who make their own authentic pies, McQueen said.
“There are a lot of closet pizzaholics out there,” he said. “These people really know good pizza.”
McQueen said that more and more restaurants are experimenting with pizza as a gourmet or specialty item, reviving the art form of Naples in what he calls a “pizza renaissance.”
It is this type of pizza that McQueen and the other pizza addicts are determined to seek out, and someday make themselves, he said.
“If you’re gonna eat those calories, better use them wisely.” he said.