When Brewer Stouffer and his former business partner began construction, roman candle pizzeria restaurant In 2004, they were thrilled to serve their community with great food made from fresh ingredients.
Over time, the local chain expanded to six locations in Williamson and Monroe streets, Middleton, Fitchburg, and Whitefish Bay, including one at the Madison Children’s Museum. At one point, all six restaurants were open at the same time.
Stouffer prides himself on being one of the “early adopters of locally grown products.” There are more than 50 locally sourced products on the menu.
But earlier this week, Stouffer and his team announced they were closing the last Roman Candle Pizzeria in Middleton. The restaurant will be taking orders until it closes on February 4. They came to the decision after struggling to keep their business in business for several years.
“In almost 20 years of hospitality, a lot has changed,” says Stouffer. “A lot of the things we did were pioneering: sourcing local products, trying to really embrace our neighborhood, trying to offer fresh, well-made food, trying not to freeze. to make everything from scratch.
“Especially with pizza, it was really special because not many people were doing it.”
Stouffer said there have been big changes in the food and pizza industry over time. Many of the company’s sales used to come from people coming to restaurants, but Roman Candle is catching up as delivery apps like EatStreet, UberEats and GrubHub deliver food and pizza straight to customers’ homes. I found it difficult to Difficult to maintain delivery drivers.
“People started delivering takeout more and more often,” he said. “It eroded market share for pizza in general. Plus, we started having a really hard time hiring drivers because there were so few people wanting to drive.
“Everything that used to make us special, like the local food, the delivery, the tight fit in the (pizza) box, is no longer special,” he said. “You can get anything in a box and you can deliver anything, so it has become more of a commodity.”
As a result, sales were stable at the Middleton store, but declined at the Williamson Street store. Closed in May.
Stouffer said the pandemic has exacerbated these problems. The restaurant staff had to add health protocols, wear masks, prioritize cleanliness far more and always care about public health. He realized the impact this had on the team.
“I’ve been really good at retaining managers because they stay for years and years,” says Stouffer. “But the managers who have to just cook, or who have to take the pizza, take the table, and cook, are constantly burning out one after another because they can’t manage it.
“Everybody was doing everything just to keep the place going. is just doing everything it can to maintain it.
Roman Candle is not alone in such a struggle. Labor shortages and burnout have been rampant in the local restaurant industry since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Stouffer said he appreciates the dedicated people he has worked with for nearly two decades.
People work in the restaurant industry “not because it makes incredible money, or because it’s attractive, or because it’s easy. They tend to enjoy making others happy.
“It’s an aspect I also share, something I inherited from my mother. I personally really enjoy cooking and entertaining. is in me, and I miss being around other people who understand and care about it.”
Stouffer works to help other business owners with branding and marketing.
“I’ve always been a storyteller,” Stouffer said. “I have always been interested in building and helping brands and companies grow. I have been really excited to grow Roman Candles for many years.
“I loved it and now I help other companies who want to be better and understand how to work with new customers, better customers and different customers.”