After six years in Chicago, married chefs Alexis Rorabaugh and Gerad Gobel have returned to the Bay Area and are opening a new pizza restaurant in Berkeley. Rose Pizzeria will take over the former Pedro’s Brazil Cafe location on University Avenue, which boasts its own outdoor seating area in a serene rose garden. The couple hopes to welcome guests to dine in August.
“It’s nice to be in the sunshine,” Rorabaugh told Nosh over the phone last week. “We love Chicago but it was just time to come back and do something new.”
The couple met 10 years ago, when they both cooked at Bar Agricole in San Francisco. After working in other people’s restaurants for years, they dreamt of opening their own wine bar-cafe in the city, but when they realized the cost to do so was out of their range, they decided to move to Chicago instead. Gobel is originally from Illinois, and aside from being closer to his roots, they “wanted a change of pace,” Rorabaugh explained. But before touching down in the Windy City, they first spent some time traveling in Italy.
Rorabaugh has had a longtime appreciation for Italian culture. While going to graduate school in Boston, she studied abroad in Italy, where she first got into cooking. Instead of following a career path dictated by her studies in art history and Italian film, she chose to work in restaurants. Gobel, on the other hand, started washing dishes to earn money while attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale, but he eventually moved his way up in the kitchen. While Gobel cut his teeth cooking primarily at barbecue restaurants, when he moved to the Bay Area, he found work at high-end San Francisco dining destinations, such as Delfina, Abbot’s Cellar and Bar Agricole.
In Chicago, Rorabaugh and Gobel opened a California-inspired Italian restaurant in June 2019. Italianette was one of five restaurants in a splashy food hall called Fulton Galley, run by Pittsburgh-based Galley Group. But just five months after opening, Galley Group pulled the plug on the food hall and Italianette and the four other Fulton Galley restaurants were suddenly forced to shutter. By the time Rorabaugh and Gobel started looking around for new restaurant jobs in Chicago, the pandemic hit, and that’s when they decided to return to the West Coast.
“We moved back to be closer to my family,” Rorabaugh said. Her parents live in Sebastopol, but the couple settled in Berkeley and it wasn’t too long before they got the itch to open their own place again. “We were kind of like, ‘What are we going to do?’ We always loved pizza and Italian food, so we started looking at spaces all over. When we found the space, we said, ‘This is perfect’ and just kind of went for it.”
Italianette focused on pasta, but instead of rehashing that concept, the husband-wife team decided the new spot would be a full-service pizza restaurant.
“[Italianette] was a great experience, I learned a lot, but I kind of see pizza as accessible to a lot more people,” Rorabaugh explained. “As much as I love pasta, pizza is more of a relaxed item to offer people.” Making pizza is also a lot less labor-intensive than scratch-made pasta, which means menu prices can be lower. Rorabaugh said their 12″ pizza pies, which “serve one hungry person or two people,” will be priced around $14-$20, depending on the ingredients. “We want to offer the best quality for a really affordable price,” she explained.
Rose Pizzeria will offer 8-10 different pizzas at a time, with a handful of “usual suspects,” such as pepperoni and margherita, and two to four selections that will change every month featuring “fun market-driven flavors,” Rorabaugh said. The pizzas will be made with naturally leavened dough using West Coast-sourced flours from Capay Mills, Cairn Springs and Central Milling Co. Rorabaugh describes the style as “a mix of Neapolitan and New York,” but notes that they’ll be cooking their pies at a lower temperature than typical to those styles. Instead of using a wood-fired oven, the chef-owners will be using an electric PizzaMaster oven, which, Rorabaugh assured us, still gets hot enough to produce that desirable thin, crackly crust.
Along with pizza, the restaurant will feature several appetizers and salads, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan-friendly options. (Rorabaugh said they’re still settling on where they’ll source the vegan cheeses, meats and other products.) Rose’s pending beer-and-wine license will allow it to offer a draft system of wines and a “fun little spritz section.” The restaurant will initially open for dinner, Wednesday through Sunday, but “depending on how things progress with people coming back to the area,” Rorabaugh said it will eventually be open for lunch as well as weekend brunch, when the chef-owners will showcase baked egg dishes, brunch pizzas, cinnamon rolls and sourdough waffles. “We’ve always been big bread people; we like messing around with dough,” Rorabaugh said.
Originally, the couple envisioned Rose Pizzeria would be delivery and carry-out only, but as the pandemic progressed and as more restaurants have started opening up, they settled on a full-service model. By June 15, area restaurants will be able to reopen indoor dining rooms at full capacity, and so by the time Rose Pizzeria opens this summer, it will be able to seat 20-22 people inside. Or for those who prefer to dine on the back patio near the namesake roses, there’ll be seating for up to 24.
Rose Pizzeria will be at 1960 University Ave. (near Milvia Street), Berkeley