Since Pizza La Stella opened in December, owner Rudy Theale has personally responded to every review he can find online about the wood-fired pizza restaurant in downtown Raleigh.
“I feel like I need to have a connection with the guests,” Theale said. “I like to learn what I’m not doing right and can do better.”
It’s time consuming, he says, but it’s important. And it’s already resulting in changes, both big and small, for the Fayetteville Street restaurant that’s poised to grow.
Tableside service recently started at dinner, a shift from the fast-casual experience that was implemented upon the restaurant’s opening.
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A second Pizza La Stella restaurant in Raleigh is expected to be announced in coming weeks, Theale said.
Smash Waffles’ owners Justin Cox and Hunter Harrison are expected to have an announcement of their own soon about their first brick-and-mortar location in the Triangle.
“It’s their company,” Theale said of Smash Waffles. “We’re going to help them. They’ve put us in an advisory role to grow their company.”
Pizza La Stella
The changes at Pizza La Stella seem like a natural progression for the restaurant that replaced what once was Bolt Bistro, a steakhouse.
“Our whole culture in this company is humble, hungry and smart,” Theale said.
The restaurant is described as an oven-roasted, wood-fired experience, Theale said. Everything is prepared in 7,000-pound ovens imported from Italy. There are no fryers, microwaves or grills.
“It’s fresher, healthier, tastier and faster,” Theale said.
The restaurant, under chef Matt Kepp, specializes in Neopolitan-style pizza but with “craft flair.” Options include pizzas with red sauce and white sauce. Among red sauce pizzas, there’s traditional Margherita (mozzarella, basil and tomatoes); Bolognese (meatballs, tomatoes); and ratatouille (Brussels sprouts, roasted artichoke and red peppers). White options include Sweet Cheesus (three cheeses with garlic confit); mushroom; and Italian Stallion (gorgonzola, pancetta, arugula and balsamic pearls). There’s also an array of specialty pizzas. Gluten-free dough is available.
There also are fire-roasted Brussels sprouts, fontina macaroni and cheese, salads and wood-fired chicken wings.
The restaurant started out with fast-casual service. Diners order at a counter by the front door, get a number and sit down to wait for their pizza. That will still happen at lunch along with a regular lunch special.
But diners said they wanted table service at dinner. Theale said the restaurant’s decor – with its high ceilings, wood detailing and The Loft, an upstairs cocktail bar – set diners’ expectations high. To them, Theale says, that doesn’t say fast-casual.
Theale started prepping for the full service by adding a weekend brunch menu. The menu features both Pizza La Stella items – breakfast pizzas and wood-fired skillets – as well as Smash Waffles. Brunch is served both Saturday and Sunday.
Smash Waffles is a waffle delivery company that launched in Greenville in December and quickly earned a following. Earlier this year, Cox and Harrison came to Pizza La Stella for a meal and met Theale. They needed a place to make waffles in Raleigh where they hoped to launch their popular delivery service. In Greenville, they’ve been making them at a local church.
They made a deal where waffles could be made in a downstairs commissary kitchen at Pizza La Stella. Delivery started in mid-March, and diners also can buy waffles from the Pizza La Stella restaurant.
They also forged a partnership to help Smash Waffles grow.
The Smash brand
A plan details how Smash will expand with Smash cafes, complete with coffee, “woffles” for dogs and waffle sandwiches. Theale said Smash can become a brand with national appeal. In Greenville, fans of the waffles document them on social media, so much that the logo of a waffle has been dubbed a “smashtag.”
A store is opening in Greenville in July. It will be known as the Smash Lab, with a production facility in the back of the shop for deliveries and a test counter in front for counter sales.
That’s just the beginning. Soon, Smash Waffles will announce its first Raleigh brick-and-mortar location, which will have seating and a more expansive menu. There even will be a yellow and black barber pole, which will spin when there are hot waffles.
The waffles themselves are doughnut-sized and can be eaten by hand. There are flavors like “The O.G.” (signature waffle with honey and cinnamon cream sauce), The Campfire (think Nutella s’mores) and the Cereal Thriller, with a different cereal each day.
A half-dozen waffles are $15. A dozen is $21. Delivery costs $3.50.
“Waffle world domination,” Theale said. “That’s their dream.”
Info: 219 Fayetteville St., Raleigh. pizzalastella.com, smashwaffles.com