Rize Artisan Pizza + Salads aims to be a different kind of contemporary fast casual restaurant, with a high-tech ordering system, and a chef-driven menu that includes salads, small plates, flatbreads, pasta and sandwiches, plus craft beer, wine and house-made beverages.
The first of its Atlanta locations opened last week at the new 675 N. Highland mixed-use development in Poncey-Highland, and locations in Sandy Springs and Midtown are set to follow in 2017.
John Smith, Rize’s founder and CEO, has a background in the hospitality and entertainment business, but always dreamed of owning his own pizza place.
“My passion is pizza. I absolutely love pizza, and I’ve eaten at pizza places all over the country and the world,” Smith said last week at Rize. “So my idea of what I wanted to do has been coming together for years.”
To help create the kind of concept he envisioned, Smith brought on Eddie Russell, a founder of the Four Coursemen supper club in Athens, whose resume includes stints at 5&10, Farm 255, Trappeze Pub, Parish, Last Word, and most recently, Argosy.
Though at first blush it might seem odd, Smith said Russell’s fine dining background and thoughts about the restaurant business were a perfect match.
“We’re more than pizza, both on the food level and on the concept level,” Smith said. "We wanted to elevate what the dining experience was for pizza with great hospitality and a menu with small plates and salads and what we’re calling bold, global flavors.”
“For me, the menu is a result of what the core of Rize is,” Russell said. “Those of us who started it together wanted something different, wanted a culture that cared about people, and that came out of collaboration. The menu, the design, everything was a collaboration.”
As far as the wide-ranging menu, look for dishes like Old World hummus with walnuts, watermelon radish, carrots and peppers, and stuffed Peppadew peppers with whipped feta and fennel sausage.
“Those kinds of things really signify what Rize is,” Russell said. “We’re doing a true Lebanese hummus that’s silky and soft and very light, and showcases the global flavors we’re looking for. The peppers are stuffed with our house-made sausage and finished with hot Calabrese oil, which showcases the bold flavors we’re looking for.”
Both Russell and Smith are proud to point out that there are no freezers, fryers or microwaves in the Rize kitchen. But there is one of the hottest chef toys of the moment, a combi oven, which is the key to the flavor and texture of the charbroiled chicken wings with spiced herb rub, ginger-honey sauce and cilantro.
Of course, artisan pizza is in the name of the restaurant, and Rize offers three “signature” thin crust pies, including Asian BBQ Chicken, plus five “specialty” and two “classic” pies, and build-your-own options with a variety of cheeses, meats and vegetables.
“Our signature pizzas are who we are,” Russell said. “It allows me to play with all kinds of flavors. But at same time, we want things that are approachable. Not only can my friends feel inspired by the food, it also appeals to my five-year old daughter.”
675 North Highland Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-334-0500.
More images from a First look at Rize.