Featured photo: The Chik’N Parm sandwich is one of the items available to order from Dom’s right now (courtesy photo)
Editor’s note: On Jan. 19, a week after this article was published, Triad City Beat published a follow-up story that included several past employees’ perspectives on why Ricciardi’s businesses failed.
It’s been a rough couple of months for Brian Ricciardi.
In August 2022 the restaurateur closed his two vegan restaurants, Dom’s and Radici, back to back. Originally having made a name for himself through his Italian spot Mozzarella Fellas, Ricciardi was facing a staffing crisis much like many other businesses in the area.
“A lot of [closing] had to do with staffing, people putting their shit onto you,” he says. “It just seems like the balance was off. This demanding, everyone wants this salary and everyone wants this, but the standard is lower. It just is very one-sided. I just kind of got sick of dealing with that bullshit honestly.”
To him, the issue is a lack of respect for the food industry.
“They say it’s the industry’s fault because we don’t pay people enough, but then [consumers are] not happy because this is a $20 price tag; it’s like we can’t win,” he says. “A lot of people coming into this industry don’t respect it and treat it like a stepping stone, just an interim paycheck that they really don’t care about. And also for consumers who just want, want, want and don’t understand what we’re up against, trying to make this all happen.”
So he decided to close his doors. He asked his staff if they wanted to ride things out into September, but said that for most of them, a two-week notice was fine. In a previous article, a past employee told TCB that they were only given a few days’ notice about the closures.
A few months went by, and Ricciardi decided he wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
“I was sitting at home, and I licked my wounds, regained my energy,” Ricciardi says.
In October 2022 he reopened Dom’s using a take-out only model. He would offer a limited menu and only take orders online. So far, it’s been working, but as the sole employee, the work has been getting to him.
“It’s literally just me, I’m cooking,” he says. “I can’t be in the dining room taking orders so I keep the door locked a majority of the time. I get an order, I make it and I put the order right outside the door for pick up.”
December was a good month for business, Riccardi says. And he wants to expand the menu, but says he’s hesitant about hiring someone again.
“In order to get this place a little busier, I need to expand the menu, and to expand the menu, I need another set of hands,” he says. “But I’m standing firm that it has to be the right person; I’m not going to just hire a warm body. I’m not dealing with that again; I don’t need anybody. If I go back to that, I will close again and I will stay closed and I will wash my hands of this industry.”
When Ricciardi closed Mozzarella Fellas in 2021 and rebranded it as Dom’s, many in the community were surprised and critical. How could a vegan restaurant survive in the Triad? But then, he opened another, more paired-down business on South Elm Street in Greensboro. A small plate-focused venture that was vegetable-forward, a fine-dining experience just for vegans. It was ambitious, considering that there wasn’t a brick-and-mortar vegan restaurant besides Dom’s anywhere else in the Triad.
Ricciardi, who continues to pay rent on both locations, is operating only Dom’s for now and isn’t sure what the future holds for Radici. In recent months the downtown storefront has been taken up by a rotating list of activists and grassroots artists. But as always, Ricciardi is unwilling to compromise on his ideals to move forward.
“I don’t do things just to be successful,” he says. “The point to me is doing something I’m passionate about and hoping it’s received well and it’s something others are also passionate about. I know right now if I go in a certain direction, I can make a successful restaurant…. That’s not what I’m setting out to do, I’m trying to do something different.”
Hopefully, those who are interested in plant-based meals will continue to support him, he says.
“Just having that place where you can go and eat and you don’t have to modify, and you don’t have to worry about what’s being mixed with your food on the grill or in the fryer,” he says. “I think a lot of people are thrilled.”
But it’s going to take more than a handful of fans to keep this going.
“I’m giving 90 percent of myself to this,” he says. “I’m just continuing based on the support. The people have always decided and will continue to decide my fate.”
To order from Dom’s, place an order for pickup on the website at domsws.com. Delivery is also available. The restaurant is open for takeout orders everyday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
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