Brian Ricciardi is making a big bet.
His new restaurant Radici, which he hopes to open next month, is going to be vegan. It will be his first restaurant in Greensboro, a carnivorous city brimming with burger joints. And he’s opening right downtown, meaning higher overhead and a bigger stage — and stakes — if he fails.
Ricciardi, who’s been operating Italian restaurant Mozzarella Fellas on the periphery of Winston-Salem, almost gave up on the industry. It had been a “hard-fought” five years even before COVID, and he felt eager to do something else.
But then a call came about a vacancy on the 200-block of South Elm Street in downtown Greensboro, a couple doors from the seminal Crafted: Art of the Taco. A week after locking in a deal, he got a call about a place in downtown Winston-Salem. He quickly decided to close his Mozzarella Fellas and open two vegan restaurants instead.
“To me, the universe was like, ‘You gotta do this,’” explained Ricciardi, who is vegan.
Dom’s in Winston-Salem is finding its footing, still not operating at full capacity after opening earlier this year. Radici — a plant-based, small-plates “upscale” venue — is arguably a bigger risk given its location and the complete overhaul the facility required, but Ricciardi is ready to bet on himself.
“This industry is a dogfight every day,” said Ricciardi, a high-school dropout with no angel investors backing him. “It’s truly going to have to be some level of luck involved to pull it off and make a living and become successful. I’m freakin’ out of my mind for doing this right now. But I think it shows my passion and how much I believe in what I’m doing.”
For years, Boba House stood as a lone vegetarian outpost in a city where every restaurant seemed to have a burger on the menu. A couple vegan restaurants like Jaribu Coffee N Hot Bread and Zizi’s Vegan Restaurant made a run at it but were short-lived. Ricciardi almost nixed plans for local artist Chuck Johnson to hand-paint “VEGAN” in all caps in Radici’s entryway, but he thinks Greensboro is ready.
“These places are eventually going to come,” he said, noting the city’s thriving craft brewery scene and burgeoning dining options. “It seems like we’re at that point. I’m just hoping I’m not ahead of the curve.”
The goal is to surprise and delight patrons about what’s possible with heavily seasonal, all-vegan ingredients, with everything from “flavorful pastas” to “watermelon steak.”
“If you’re going to step foot into this crazy industry and work your life away, first, do something that you believe in, and second, give the city what it needs,” he said. “I truly want to do my part for the city I live in.”
And if he’s going to go all in, it needed to be in the heart of the city, he said.
“Being out at Mozzarella Fellas for years, it’s like you’re not at the cool kids table,” he said. “We all know about certain spots like the original Hops, but at the end of the day, we judge and are judged on what our downtown area looks like. I want to be there at the forefront.”