November 11, 2014

Pizzeria Paradiso to speed things up with Veloce

Ruth VeloceAfter 23 years of full-service pies at Pizzeria Paradiso, Ruth Gresser (pictured left) is tackling a new challenge: fast-casual. Come next spring, D.C. will meet Veloce by Pizzeria Paradiso, a quick-serve pizza concept the chef/owner has been thinking over for the past several years.

Veloce — the Italian word for “speed” — aims to open in March at 1828 L St. NW, in a neighborhood becoming a hub for many new fast-casual concepts coming into the market. Miller Walker Retail Real Estate represented the tenant in the lease deal.

The personal pizzas will cook in approximately two minutes in gas-powered ovens, as opposed to Paradiso’s wood-fired variety. Unlike its many counterparts in fast-casual pizza, however, the 1,400-square-foot restaurant will shun the Chipotle-style assembly line in favor of efficiency.

Customers will be able to choose from several “house pizzas” or create their own, but they’ll do so in one stop at the ordering station to get the pizza in the oven quicker, Gresser said. Despite the all the buzz around food customization in today’s fast-casual landscape, it’s really nothing new in the world of pizza, she added.

The menu will smack of Paradiso, but not overlap. There will be a Bosco, for instance, but it will have roasted mushrooms, and a white pizza similar to the Quattro Formaggi. There won’t be beer, given that Veloce will operate mainly as a carryout and lunch spot. The restaurant has 30 seats, include those planned for an outside patio.

For Gresser, the food was the easy part.

“I always knew I could do the food … that’s not been the key piece of figuring out this new puzzle,” she said. “The bigger question is how to service the number of people that we hope will choose to come in the time period that they have available to do it.

Things like how to package the pizza, how to keep it hot for carryout orders and whether to do online ordering through an app have all had to be considered.

“There’s this whole other segment that needs to be created and developed and put in place,” she said. “We’re excited to change it up a little bit and do something a little new. It’s been fun, this challenge of conceiving something and then making it a reality.”

Though she began thinking of doing a fast-casual almost six years ago, the chef said she held off because of other projects. She has been methodical about expansion, opening three restaurants — and writing one cookbook — since opening the first Paradiso in 1991.

Which is why she’s not saying yet whether Veloce will one day be ” the Chipotle of pizza.

“At that rate, it’s going to take me a very long time before it could be the first of many,” she said. “We’ll see what happens, but I do think it would lend itself to that, potentially.

WBJ