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NEW RESTAURANT ALERT: A distant dream now a full-fledged reality

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Richard Williams, owner of Luna Pizza, talks to customers on January 17. (Molly Mathis/Mixer Magazine)


Mackenzie Tewksbury

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Smile, breathe and go slowly.

Those three things — outlined in a book written by a Buddhist Monk — are etched in ink on Richard Williams’ forearm. And while it’s a reminder of three things he must do every day, it also reflects the beginning of a business endeavor: Luna Pizza and Cafe. 

The booming business was a dream transformed into reality by a series of seemingly lucky coincidences.

The story goes: Upon arrival into Charlotte from a flight out of John F. Kennedy International, two men were among airline passengers to learn their next flight to Greenville was canceled. The strangers —one Williams and the other a businessman, both returning from Italy —had the same idea: head for the airport bar. Williams arrived last and found the only seat open was next to the businessman, who just so happened to be reading the same Buddhism book that contains the words tattooed onto Williams arm. They got to talking, and Williams learned a thing or two about business success.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

“It’s been that kind of story the whole time. It just fell together. It’s these angels that sort of just flew into my life,” Williams said.

Williams was a recreational therapy professor at East Carolina University for 17 years prior to opening Luna. He loved his job and his students, he found himself more and more interested in food and baking. He started out making macaroons and selling them at farmer’s markets — “I tried to conquer the hardest possible thing you can sell at a farmers market,” he laughed — and it took him four or five months to get it right. He then started taking baking seriously, and developed closer relationships with “food folks” in town. 

And with summers off from school, Williams packed up and took a three-week trip to Florence, Italy. He attended a cooking school where he fell in love with the whole vibe. The food, the people and the atmosphere made it hard for him to come home. 

He returned a different person who brought back more than just souvenirs; he brought back what he called a “bug.” 

“I was up at Starlight Cafe having dinner and Sue, [whose family owns Starlight], she grabbed me by the hands and said kindly, ‘I diagnose you with the restaurant bug. And sadly, there is no cure.’”

With his newfound diagnosis, Williams read lots of books about challenging yourself and following your own path, and thought long and hard about the decision at hand. 

“After 17 years you get pretty good at a job. I can coast and retire and die, or I can have this big life shift,” Williams said. 

Then began the vision of Luna Pizza. The cafe, housed in an old Coca-Cola bottling plant and still uses some of the original features, is on 632 S. Pitt Street. Not long ago, it was disastrous, with broken tiles, old plaster and even a vine growing through a part of it.  Williams had absolutely no intention of using the dilapidated building as his restaurant; he actually called his friend interested in buying the very same building two years ago “crazy.” But, as fate would have it, Luna Pizza and Cafe now calls the building home.

Williams said he was cautiously optimistic for the Jan. 2 opening. Rightfully so, as there was a line of people waiting to try the authentic, local fare even before he opened the doors for the first time. Since then, they’ve been busy and even ran out of pizza dough on some nights — Williams laughed and said he won’t let that happen again. 

From the second patrons walk in the door to the moment they sign their checks, Williams said he hopes his restaurant is something special. 

“We’re not just selling pizzas. We’re selling experience,” Williams said. “We want people to have the best hour and a half of their day.”