But for a devoted pocket of eaters, chefs, restaurateurs and pizza aficionados, the hardest, most personal loss came in late January. The place was named Great Lake, and it was so small and hilariously frustrating that whenever you mistakenly added an “s” to its name, owners Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza would not hesitate to correct you. Here was a pizza joint in Andersonville that served exactly two things: pizza and salad. (Three things, if you count water.) The lines for its pizza were legendary. Its takeout system was mystifying and epic: Walk in at 6 p.m., order a pizza to go and you would be told to return at 8:30 p.m. (or later). And the owners often refused to allow anyone to use the bathroom (alienating its neighboring businesses).
The catch, the deal with the devil, was the place itself, and its hard-to-warm-to owners who so valued their freedom and standards that they proved unpredictable, feisty, harsh. They were often called Pizza Nazis. They stayed open fewer hours than popularity warranted; it wasn't uncommon to go on a Saturday and find they were randomly closed. And theirs was not a manufactured popularity: They made once-in-a-lifetime food and refused to bend, speed up because lines had grown, add more tables or give preferential treatment. When they asked Jay Z and Beyonce to wait an hour for a table on a weekday, you knew they were serious.
But eventually a reputation precedes you. Lessins and Esparza could not come to lease-renewal terms with their landlord. Exhausted from daily bouts of combat, they decided to lock up and stop. Like all bottle rockets, Great Lake's run was spectacular, short (five years) and inevitable. You can only say, “Sorry, we've run out of dough,” so many times before you're not long for this world.