Restaurantarama has been known to take a few jibes at the chains around town. It’s only because we are fiercely loyal to our local establishments. And yet, we’ve also offered a few plugs for Chipotle right here in this column. We give the fast food burrito chain special dispensation for having great design, fresh ingredients, many of which are local (e.g., Polyface Farm provides the pork for the carnitas), an eco-consciousness and the ability to somehow create vibe in a strip mall. For the same reasons, the owners of Rise PizzaWorks—John Spagnolo and Andrew Vaughn—are O.K. with calling their concept the “Chipotle of pizza parlors.”
John Spagnolo, left, and Andrew Vaughn are O.K. with calling their new Rise PizzaWorks “the Chipotle of pizza parlors.”
“I actually ate there before I came here,” Vaughn tells us as we sit down with him and Spagnolo to discuss their new Barracks Road restaurant, which, if the duo reaches their ultimate dream, may be the first of many Rise PizzaWorks units across town, across the state and possibly across the country. “We’re big admirers of Chipotle. It was definitely an inspiration.” But Spagnolo adds, “No one has ever done the custom-slice concept before.”
When Rise opens in September, it will provide fresh, made-to-order pizzas by the slice (a whopping one-fourth of the pie), by the half or by the whole pizza. Customers will get to pick a type of crust (e.g., the signature thin and crispy; a thicker crust; gluten-free), more than 40 toppings, one of five sauces and one of eight types of cheese. After proceeding along the ordering bar, where Rise staff will assemble your custom pizza before your eyes, your personal masterpiece will be popped into a forced-air convection-type oven—the “Rise-O-Matic”—and come out hot in about two to three minutes. For the easily overwhelmed, Rise will also provide a list of specialty pizzas with all the options already chosen for you. For the carb-avoiders, there will be custom-made salads (sort of like the Burrito Bowl), for the kiddies, a smaller-sized pizza option and for the post-softball game types, beer and wine. The one-fourth slice likely will start in $3.25 range, with a full-loaded specialty slice coming out at around $6 or $7.
Similar to Chipotle, Vaughn and Spagnolo will focus as much as possible on local ingredients (recognizing that local salad greens in January are a bit harder to find), and yes, it will have a great modern design courtesy of the folks at Alloy Workshop, who are lending their triple threat of talents—architecture, carpentry and graphic design—to the project.
Vaughn and Spagnolo are veterans of the Charlottesville restaurant community. Vaughn owned Orbit Billiards and Atomic Burrito (which he admits was itself a riff on Chipotle before it set up shop here) and currently has ownership stakes in Rapture and the Christian’s Pizza on the Corner. Spagnolo once oversaw the operations of Starr Hill Brewery, Blue Light Grill and Mas.
With Casella’s Italian Restaurant at Barracks having been replaced by Tara Thai a few months back, there’s already pent-up demand for what Rise will sell at that location, but the goal is even larger than that. Spagnolo and Vaughn say they are working hard on creating consistency and efficiency so the concept can be replicated.
If Rise takes off, we’ll be more than a little proud to see our home grown folks—both the team of Spagnolo and Vaughn and the designers of Alloy—making good across America. Hey, some other town’s chain, our local heroes.