On a typical Friday night, the streets of College Park are swarmed with University of Maryland students basking in the nightlife on Baltimore Avenue. Of the hundreds of students that pass Ledo Pizza on Knox Road on their way to and from crowded bars, Steve Smith, Chesapeake Hospitality chief strategy officer, estimated approximately 80% of students said they’ve never had the restaurant’s famous square pizza.
“This place was stealth,” said Smith. “We’re not stealth anymore.”
But that has started to change.
When the Greenbelt-based business management company, Chesapeake Hospitality, purchased the original Ledo restaurant in November 2020, the new owner had one main goal in mind - to strengthen the restaurant's long-established roots in the UMD community.
The management company, which operates an additional seven Ledo Pizza franchise locations, purchased the restaurant from the original owners, who operated the location for over a decade. They began renovations in May 2021, said Mike Donnelly, the director of restaurants for Chesapeake Hospitality.
Renovations included a complete restyle of the largest Ledo location, including the addition of a semi-private dining room, a carryout kiosk, a bar in the front dining area and a large back room for private parties.
Of the 107 franchise locations, Ledo Pizza of College Park stands out for its design and nods to the UMD community. The walls are adorned with College Park and UMD memorabilia, relics from the original restaurant, and old photographs and newspaper clippings.
Loyal Ledo customers are happy the restaurant opened again and are pleased with the updated menu and contemporary design, said Donnelly. Yet, “there’s a significant part of the population that doesn’t even know we’re open again,” said Donnelly.
Under new management, Ledo Pizza aims to build its affiliation with the UMD community and reach the formerly untouched student market.
The restaurant, which previously closed at 9 p.m., now stays open to 2 a.m. on weekends and is focusing on developing and utilizing an app for online orders.
Jilly Schimer, a junior at UMD, was hired as a server and bartender three weeks before the restaurant’s opening. After seeing a low turnout out at the soft opening, Schimer approached owners with an idea to increase brand awareness among students.
“The best way to reach students and people living around College Park is through social media,” said Schimer, who now runs the Ledo Pizza Instagram account. “It’s been a good way to get the word out,” said Schimer.
Since Chesapeake Hospitality took over, Ledo Pizza, an official sponsor for UMD, has been sold in concession stands at football games and will continue to be sold at basketball games as well. At every football game this season, the pizza has been sold out by halftime, said Smith. The restaurant recently filled an order for 2,000 pizzas for the Terps game against Indiana on Oct. 30.
“We want to make sure we fully wrap our arms around the UMD community,” said Donnelly.