Last August, about a third of Brian Ricciardi’s menu at Mozzarella Fellas was vegan. As of this month, it’s 100 percent.

“In light of everything going down with coronavirus and not knowing if I was going to have a business, I figured I’d go out on my own terms if I do not make it,” Ricciardi said. “It’s what I’m passionate about, so I’m taking a leap of faith.”

Ricciardi, the owner of Mozzarella Fellas at 336 Summit Square Blvd., spent the last month or so clearing out the rest of his meat and cheese inventory, and made the switch to 100% vegan the first week of June.

“I believe we are the first all vegan brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Piedmont,” he said.

Ricciardi, who opened Mozzarella Fellas in 2016, is a vegan — a vegetarian who also eats no eggs, cheese, butter or milk or other animal by-products. “I’ve been a vegan since I opened the restaurant. It’s been a huge agenda of mine,” he said. “So this is always something I wanted to do.”

Ricciardi also offers gluten-free pizza crust and pasta.

But the vegan and gluten-free items were always offered alongside their traditional counterparts, so any fan of Italian food could have their favorite dish either way.

The new menu includes many of the vegan dishes Mozzarella Fellas has been serving for a while now, including Buffalo cauliflower and BBQ jackfruit “pulled pork” sandwich.

He continues to offer pizza and pasta either with wheat or gluten-free.

But the menu also has some new items, including nachos and fried rice. Ricciardi always offered some non-Italian dishes at the restaurant, but he said he’s straying even farther away from Italian cuisine now. “I’m doing Mexican, Asian, Italian – I’m all over the board,” he said. “I’m not sure how it’s all going to end up.”

He is serving Beyond Meat burger patties and sausage, soy chicken and several types of cheese substitutes. 

Ricciardi joked in a Facebook post that he has been called crazy a few times in the past two weeks, but he’s sticking with his decision.

During the pandemic, Mozzarella Fellas has been doing takeout. Ricciardi has yet to reopen the dining room, but he's hoping to do that July 10. “We’re going to see how things go,” he said.

Ricciardi said he has been lucky that customers have continued to support him during the pandemic, and that, though he operates with a smaller staff, takeout business has been relatively good. “The community has definitely showed up, and I’m really grateful,” he said.

He’s not sure how he’ll fare in the long-term – and that’s part of the reason he decided to follow his heart and switch to an all-vegan menu.

“All of the vegans have been really supportive, but there’s not a huge vegan population in Winston,” he said. “But I hope Winston will be proud. Now we have something that other surrounding cities don’t have.”

He knows he has alienated some of meat- and cheese-loving customers - because they’ve told him. “A lot of them have been very gracious about it, but certain people have voiced their displeasure – and I understand that.”

Time will tell whether his decision was a good business move. “I’m rolling the dice, but this seems to be the time to do it. When I had that realization that I could lose everything I worked for, I just said, ‘Why not?’” he said.

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