Brian Ricciardi is a hard guy to nail down.
He’s always on the move these days between his two restaurants in Winston-Salem and Greensboro. And he likes it that way.
Ricciardi is one of the original owners of Mozzarella Fellas in Winston-Salem, the homey Italian outfit that gained a following after its opening in April 2016. Over the years, Ricciardi experimented with the menu, increasingly adding plant-based options and eventually turning the whole venture into a vegan restaurant, now called Dom’s.
Located on Spruce Street on the outskirts of downtown, drivers would likely miss Dom’s unless they had the exact address. Outside of the standalone brick building, a misleading sign still reads “Spruce Street Garden.” But inside, the walls have been painted black and a new neon sign signifies that you’re in the right place. Plus, the menu’s all plant-based.
Both of Ricciardi’s restaurants — Dom’s in Winston-Salem and the soon-to-be-open Radici in Greensboro — are the only fully-vegan full-service restaurants in the Triad.
For the longest time, Greensboro had Boba House on Tate Street as its sole vegetarian, but not fully vegan, option. In recent years, the addition of Mike’s Vegan Cookout food truck and the Well Café have increased variety, but Dom’s and Radici will be the first two straight-up vegan restaurants that the cities can call their own.
“I was vegan for a year going into Mozzarella Fellas, so it was a growing passion of mine because I was new into it,” says Ricciardi. “Back then things were rough, especially around here. There were no options and at that point I wasn’t even thinking of it as a need, it was more like I just want to be able to eat while I’m working.”
Ricciardi says he started eating vegan around May 2015 when he tried his aunt’s food at one of her vegan popups in Brooklyn. She challenged him to stick with the diet for a month and he never went back.
“That’s how we started growing the menu,” he says. “I’ve always been about trying to provide the community with what it needs rather than what it already has. That’s one thing that really bothers me is seeing the same thing over and over again. We’re just offering something different.”
At Dom’s, the homestyle cooking known to fans of Mozzarella Fellas acts as a through-line on the menu. Named for his great-grandfather Dominic, the restaurant boasts a variety of burgers, pasta and fried cauliflower plates that tempt even those whose palettes have become accustomed to eating meat, with their flavorful design and convincing alternatives. The Korean BBQ cauliflower is a particular customer favorite.
However, in traditional Ricciardi fashion, he says customers shouldn’t get too attached to any single dish.
“Ideally, we should be changing seasonally,” he says. “If we’re not, it doesn’t make sense. We’re a plant-based restaurant.”
Back when he started changing the menu at Mozzarella Fellas, he says he got grief from customers who had been going for years, ordering the same thing. But the whims with which Ricciardi changes up his businesses is part of his charm, he argues.
“I don’t draw hard lines at all in life,” he says. “I feel like that’s a dangerous thing…. It’s fun for us to constantly be doing different things. I could also see where we will have a few staples, but we’ll always be diverse with it, and we’ll make sure there’s something on there that you’ll fall in love with all over again.”
When he closed Mozzarella Fellas last year, Ricciardi says he was ready to be done with the food industry, but then he found the storefront for Radici in Greensboro and the location for Dom’s in Winston-Salem. He felt compelled to continue, this time on his own terms.
“I just felt like I couldn’t pass it up,” he says.
In Greensboro, Ricciardi is busy opening Radici, which means “roots” in Italian in a storefront just a few paces down from Crafted on Elm Street. This location, too, will be fully vegan, but Ricciardi says he envisions his second location being more “upscale” and focused on smaller plates.
“It’s going to be more vegetable focused,” he says. “It will be about highlighting the vegetables, not doing mock meats.”
He says it makes business sense to do two different concepts so that customers will be willing to travel to both cities to try each restaurant. His hope is to officially open Radici some time in July.
And as customers visit Dom’s and eagerly await the opening of its sister restaurant in Greensboro, Ricciardi urges them to be patient with him and to accept if he makes changes.
“At the end of the day, I change with the weather,” he says. “That’s why I change things so often, so people are just on the journey with me. As frustrating as I know it can be, I want people to understand that I’m giving it my all.”
Dom’s is located at 134 N. Spruce Street in Winston-Salem. Radici will be located at 214 S. Elm Street.