Bolt Bistro & Bar, which has operated out of city-owned space on Fayetteville Street for the past four years, is shedding its shirt-and-tie image.
Co-owner David Sadeghi is turning the restaurant into Pizza La Stella in hopes of attracting the more casual downtown crowd.
“The (pizza) place will look much more approachable,” Sadeghi said.
This month the Raleigh City Council agreed to loosen its restaurant tenant’s menu restrictions, paving the way for a change from bistro-style options and tapas to pizza.
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The move represents a changing downtown core that is no longer struggling to convince people to hang out after work and on weekends.
In 2008, the city spent $1 million to renovate its ground-floor property at One Exchange Plaza and lured The Mint, a white-tablecloth eatery, in an effort to bring visitors to a struggling Fayetteville Street.
When The Mint closed four years into its 10-year lease, some people blamed the expensive menu.
Bolt signed a 10-year lease on the space in 2012, and the city said it must serve more affordable food. But Sadeghi says Bolt’s atmosphere is too formal to attract walk-in customers, and he hopes Pizza La Stella will appeal to people who want to grab a quick bite and a craft beer.
As part of a new agreement with the city, Sadeghi plans to spend about $200,000 to renovate the space. The overhaul will include a larger opening to the kitchen and the installation of specialized equipment to make wood-fired pizzas.
In exchange for the upgrades, Raleigh will give Pizza La Stella three months of free rent, worth $44,510.
Bolt will close in October, and Sadeghi hopes to open the pizza restaurant in mid-November. To help it succeed, Sadeghi has tapped Florida restaurateur Rudy Theale to act as managing partner.
“A lot of the concept is driven through Rudy and his experience with the craft pizza,” he said. “He’s really the force behind it all.”
The pair plan to open another Pizza La Stella location in Durham next spring.
Bolt co-owner Adalius Thomas, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots, will not be as involved in the new venture, Sadeghi said.
Bolt suffered during the city’s yearlong overhaul of the Exchange and Market plazas downtown, he said. The $1.2 million project, which wrapped up this spring, increased the walkable space in the plazas, which connect Fayetteville and Wilmington streets.
“The concept is not a failure,” Sadeghi said of Bolt. “ The concept is paying its bills. However, over the last year because of the construction, we have lost part of our business.”
Sadeghi said the slowdown opened his eyes to the changing demographics of Fayetteville Street. No longer is it mostly a place where people want a fancy meal after a show at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts or an event at the Raleigh Convention Center.
City Council member Bonner Gaylord said he thinks Raleigh shouldn’t be competing in the private market. Lots of restaurants have opened downtown since the city first entered into an agreement with The Mint eight years ago.
But Gaylord said as long as Raleigh leases the space to a restaurant, it’s good to loosen restrictions.
“Giving him the flexibility to be successful is the way we need to behave as a landlord,” Gaylord said of Sadeghi. “If he feels he’s got a concept that’s going to be successful and meet his customers, then he knows more about it than me.”
Amir Sadeghi, David’s son and owner of Cold off the Press, a juice bar located behind Bolt, said his business is planning to relocate in the next few months.The plan is to move to a larger space downtown.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi