On Sunday, West Berkeley neighborhood restaurant Pizza Moda cooked its last cheesy pies. After six years serving an omnivorous menu of pizzas, along with housemade pasta, salads and starters, the business is no longer, but its owner Elliot Harrison isn’t calling it a day. He’s already planning its next stage with new business partners, Peter Fikaris and Christina Stobing, the brother-sister team behind The Butcher’s Son. Together, the trio will reopen the restaurant early next year as The King’s Feet, where they’ll serve vegan Italian cuisine.
Some may remember that before Pizza Moda, there was once an Italian spot called Fellini in that same space. While Fellini wasn’t entirely vegan, it was known among meatless eaters for its veg-friendly menu, especially its vegan brunch — something that wasn’t as common in 2003, when Jeff Davis opened the restaurant. Davis expanded with Fellini Coffeebar next door but eventually sold the restaurant to a new chef. However, as Davis puts it, things didn’t work out with that arrangement, and in 2013, he took over again, reopening the restaurant as Pizza Moda. In 2018, Davis was ready to step away from the restaurant again, but this time he handed over the reins to Harrison, a longtime employee.
“I had been working there for years as a server,” Harrison told Nosh in a phone conversation. “Over six years, I’ve gotten to know the place pretty well.”
Harrison wanted to put his stamp on the business. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, Harrison said he “grew up running around” his parents’ restaurant, and when he was in high school, he worked at his uncle’s pizzeria. But Harrison didn’t have a professional culinary background; he studied painting in Chicago before moving to the Bay Area in 2010. Unsure which direction to go next, he consulted with Davis, who continues to run Fellini Coffeebar next door and who is still the leaseholder for the restaurant, “to find ways to make the place uniquely [his] own.” Acting as a mentor, Davis encouraged him to talk to Fikaris and Stobing, whose three-year-old vegan deli has been such a success it moved into a larger space last year to accommodate its growing customer base. Inspired by Fellini’s salad days, Davis suggested Harrison consider rekindling its vegan heyday; he asked him, “Why don’t you bring the magic back that we used to have here?”
Harrison is not vegan himself but has “leaned vegetarian for the last five years,” and had kept vegan options on Pizza Moda’s menu. The Butcher’s Son provided some of the vegan ingredients Pizza Moda offered, and Fikaris came in as a customer from time to time. When Davis owned Pizza Moda, he offered to sell the business to Fikaris and Stobing, but they felt too busy to take on another endeavor, especially as both have young children. But when Harrison approached Fikaris and Stobing with the proposition to go into business together, everyone was immediately on board.
“Our visions seemed to align pretty perfectly,” Harrison said. “The three of us are really coming at this with all we’ve got. I couldn’t be happier with it.”
Fikaris explained the details of the partnership: The Butcher’s Son is in charge of the concept, menu and recipes; Harrison will run the day-to-day operations as the restaurant’s manager. “Having Elliot do the day-to-day was the clincher,” Fikaris said.
Fikaris said opening an Italian restaurant follow-up to the vegan deli was a no-brainer. “If we were going to open a restaurant, it was going to be Italian. We’re Italian,” he said, adding that it’s the type of food he craves, but as a vegan, it’s a challenge to find good Italian cuisine. “It’s what’s lacking right now.”
The King’s Feet will be a full-service, sit-down restaurant. It will start with dinner only. The opening menu will offer feature salads, appetizers, fresh pasta, entrees, pizzas and dessert. Everything will be made in-house, meant to be enjoyed family-style. Fikaris shared some dishes to look forward to, including a “calamari” starter made with mushroom and banana blossom, linguini with maitake mushroom “clams” and a puttanesca served with “fish.” Fikaris said they’re still working on the crust, but he’s aiming for pizza that’s “rustic, crunchy and chewy.” The King’s Feet will serve beer and wine, but no hard liquor. And eventually, there might be a weekend brunch service, too.
“I’d love to be able do a brunch. I definitely see that happening,” Harrison said, but he added that their first priority will be getting “dinner service locked in” and running consistently. Only then will they “gradually expand as we’re able and it makes sense.”
When the restaurant reopens, Harrison said it will “look and feel different inside” with new touches to the interior.
An opening date is still to be determined. The partners are aiming to open mid to late January, but the date might get pushed back to early February.
As for the name, a few options had been considered before the partners settled on The King’s Feet.
Fikaris admits the name is a bit strange and may be “off-putting” to some, but the idea for the moniker is inspired by a concept dating back to ancient times, when religious leaders, kings, and queens were shown respect through the worship of their feet. To Fikaris, the name embodies the concept of worshipping something that’s high quality, top shelf and prized, which he says is the level he’s aspiring to with the food at the new restaurant.
But mostly, he said, he wanted to come up with something different and catchy that might start a conversation.
Not everyone likes the name ‘The Butcher’s Son,” he said, but everyone remembers it.