Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza flips the idea of ice cream trucks and pizza parlors on its head, dishing out slices from a truck and scoops from a café.
When owner Gael Chatelain had to remove the outdoor patio that previously served as the main dining area for the customers of the food truck, it came as a blow to business, as the traditional Neapolitan pizza it serves is meant to be eaten straight out of the oven.
When Chatelain and his wife found a small storefront, they quickly bought it and went to work on Napoli's new location.
"Our idea was, we can't do the tables over there anymore, so let's move the truck to this lot here in front of Weaver Street, and let's do in a little storefront here everything we can't do in a truck: coffee, teas, wine, beer and our other passion, gelato," Chatelain said.
Moving from wheels to walls was a big change, but Chatelain is excited by the new possibilities the café presents.
"We love how different it is," Chatelain said. "We were concerned that people wouldn't necessarily get the concept, but they've really taken to it, and we've had great feedback."
After over three years in the truck, Napoli has made a name for itself and become a part of the local landscape, and Chatelain hopes to continue that with the restaurant.
"The name drew me at first," customer Omar Rezk said. "It's cool to see that the pizza place is opening a storefront"
Other customers feel the same way.
"I'd been told about it, and I was like, 'Let's go!'" customer Mickey Davis said.
Mentioning gelato, a product that was previously off the table due to the confines of the food truck, makes Chatelain's eyes light up. A variety of creative, made-from-scratch flavors now fill the front counter of the café.
"We've always been interested in starting an ice cream place, and gelato was the way to go because of the food truck and what we were doing there," Chatelain said. "We love gelato and its purity. It's full of flavor. We wanted to do something local, so we use local milk and the best ingredients we can find."
In the first month of operation, the café has already served over 20 flavors of gelato, including fruity sorbets, salted dulce de leche and herbal tarragon.
"My wife has all the good ideas when it comes to flavors," Chatelain said. "People stick to the safe stuff. We're not going to do that."
Chatelain traces his love of pizza back to cooking meals for his family at a young age. He and his wife began to experiment with gelato flavors more recently after purchasing equipment for their catering business around a year ago.
Napoli is not the couple's only foray into the restaurant industry. In 2009, the two opened Comme Chez Soi, a top-rated restaurant and hotel in Bamako, Mali, the capital of the West African country.
As for the future, Chatelain plans to continue expanding. Napoli Cafe & Neapolitan Pizza will be a founding vendor at Durham Food Hall, a venue that offers stalls for local restaurants. Chatelain would like to open another brick and mortar restaurant, but the timeline for that is not set.
For the time being, Chatelain will enjoy the new environment provided by the café.
"It's felt really neat to have an actual location, a real one," Chatelain said. "The truck's been a part of the community for a while, but we've had so many more people get excited and come in since we've been with the trucks."
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