Raleigh, N.C. — After four years in development, chef Anthony Guerra is realizing his dream to open his own New York style pizza restaurant in downtown Raleigh. But, for now, he is just hoping his 4-month old daughter Vivian will take a nap.
On Monday morning Guerra was taking his daughter for a stroll to his upcoming shop at 610 N. Person St., located just a few doors down from Crawford and Son, where he is currently the general manager. Instead of sleeping, the infant was wide awake and ready to check out her father's new restaurant.
Oakwood Pizza Box will always have a space for Vivian to play, Guerra said. He can see his daughter growing up and hanging out at Crawford and Son and Oakwood Pizza.
For Guerra, pizza is a way of life. The Long Island native has been seeking out the best pizza since childhood.
"Wherever there was a great pizza place, my dad would take us," he said, referencing New York staples Grimaldi's and Lombardi's.
While studying history and economics at UNC Chapel Hill, Guerra's father had the idea to open a restaurant.
"I figured he needed help," Guerra said. "So I did research, dug in and worked for different people."
Bella Mia opened in 2010 in Cary.
"Fortunately nobody really knew about us in the beginning, and that was great because we weren’t ready for them to show up," Guerra said. "We figured it out. It took a long time."
Guerra made the restaurant's Neapolitan style pizzas. While there, he met chef Scott Crawford, who was working then at The Umstead.
"We just connected. We are two peas in a pod," Guerra said of Crawford.
Guerra's family decided to sell Bella Mia in 2013. Guerra ended up working with Crawford to open Crawford and Son.
"The people who work with him go do bigger things and it’s not by mistake. He’s the best leader and mentor I’ve worked for," Guerra said.
So when the space three doors down from Crawford and Son opened up for lease, Guerra knew he had to open his shop there. Oakwood Pizza Box will be focused on the same style of pizza Guerra grew up eating on Friday nights.
"In a lot of ways, it (Bella Mia) was some of the best work I've ever done. I don't want to try to recreate that," Guerra said. "It's more fun and more challenging to go in a different direction."
Ingredients will be sourced locally for the 16-inch pizzas. There will be a small selection of specialty pizzas available daily.
"Freshness really matters," Guerra said.
When Oakwood Pizza Box opens in the fall, Guerra is hoping the space will become a favorite Friday night pizza spot.
"Restaurants are not what you do to make money. Restaurants are what you do to be part of the community," Guerra said.