Alice Wheeler

Danny Piecora is a businessman to the core. When he moved to Seattle from Brooklyn in 1978, he saw a void on Capitol Hill: There wasn't any New York-style pizza. So he opened Piecora's Pizza at 14th and Madison.

Now, two decades later, 49-year-old Piecora sees another void on Capitol Hill--one that he intends to fill with God.

On Sunday, May 5, Piecora, along with Pastor Bud Kolstad, 52, who has opened churches in Bellevue and Salem, Oregon, inaugurated his "Church on the Hill," a non-denominational organization that convenes in the pizzeria.

Holding services in the pizzeria--in the newest dining room of the three-storefront space--is a unique and quirky idea that Piecora hopes will make the church popular. But the pizzeria is on Capitol Hill, home to artists, punk-rock hipsters, street youth, and a large gay population--groups that aren't usually the churchgoing sort. Plus, studies show 25 percent of locals say they have no time for God. Seattle is one of the least religious cities in the U.S. Does Capitol Hill really need another church?

Piecoras is making plans to woo the Capitol Hill crowd. Piecora says that in addition to the 10:30 a.m. Sunday service, they have tentative plans for a midnight weekend coffee hour, catering to night owls. And the pizza-shop atmosphere is designed to be welcoming. "A lot of people wouldn't be caught dead in a church," Piecora says. "They're not afraid of a restaurant." There are no pews--on May 5, the eight church attendees sat at tables.

"I know how to do a traditional church, and I don't want to do a traditional church," Kolstad says. "We don't have a structure for the service right now, because we want the community to formulate it."

But will Capitol Hill's community be willing to formulate it?

"I think it's a pretty touching idea," says Kerri Harrop, the booker at Chop Suey, a nightclub next door. "It's totally the spirit of Capitol Hill--anything goes. Here's a nightclub, here's a gay bar, and here's a church in a pizzeria."

"I don't see how religion fits with pizza," says Steven Ingram, who ate at Piecora's on a recent evening. "That's bizarre," added his friend Joe Demick, a man with blue streaks in his hair. "As long as [Piecora] doesn't start proselytizing with the pizza...."

But Seattle isn't very church-friendly--it's often seen as a non-religious city. In fact, Washington State leads the country in people without religion--25 percent call themselves atheist, agnostic, or secular. While Capitol Hill has a sprinkling of old churches, many of the congregation members live outside the neighborhood.

Piecora, however, isn't deterred. While some Capitol Hill residents may be turned off by the idea of a pizzeria church, businessman Piecora is adept at putting a positive spin on it--these are people with spiritual holes waiting to be filled.

"I see a lot of demand for a church," Piecora says, sitting at a booth in his pizzeria, a half-eaten slice of pepperoni pizza on his plate. He's casually dressed in a green corduroy sport coat. A new copy of the bible rests nearby for easy reference. "I haven't seen anything significant around here, spiritually."

But it's not clear how alternative Piecora's Church on the Hill will be. Kolstad says he has a fairly strict interpretation of the bible, and the two men met through Four Square Church in Bothell--an evangelical church with an emphasis on personal salvation. Piecora himself is a believer in salvation--he says he's been healed several times by the power of God, and credits much of his business success to his faith. Though Piecora doesn't force his beliefs on people, he does have strong convictions when it comes to religion. "Not a lot of churches around are offering [the congregation] teaching about the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives," Piecora says.

Eight people came to the first service. Most had read about the church in the Capitol Hill Times. They were older folks, not exactly Capitol Hill's demographic. The service was casual--a discussion over coffee and doughnuts of religious backgrounds and personal beliefs--and included a brief sermon by Kolstad and intense prayers for Piecora's painful neck and another attendee's longstanding ear infection.

amy@thestranger.com