What began as a lone hole-in-the-wall college bar churning out hot pizza and cold beer has evolved into a multi-unit, family-friendly dining destination. Ruckus Pizza, Pasta & Spirits ranks among the area’s most well-regarded restaurants, as the readers of Cary Magazine attested in the recent Maggy Awards poll.
Ruckus scored the top honor in the Most Kid-Friendly, Best Outdoor Dining and Best Neighborhood Bar categories and tied for first place in Best Appetizers. The eatery received honorable mention for Best Cocktails and Best Pizza. Back in 2014, it nabbed the Best New Restaurant Maggy for the Morrisville location.
All these accolades didn’t come easy.
Over the past 18 years, owner Robert Royster and his wife, Ashley Royster, have worked hard to mold Ruckus’ four locations into comfortable and reliably consistent gathering spots. Look for even more outposts in Apex in early 2017 and Holly Springs in 2018.
“We first started Ruckus at Mission Valley Shopping Center in Raleigh shortly after college, so a lot of people remember us as a bar,” said Robert, a serial entrepreneur and North Carolina State University alumnus. “As we’ve grown older and had children, we wanted to open places where we and others could come with our families to eat dinner and watch a game.”
Ruckus provides a high-energy, casual dining experience with a subtly Caribbean vibe, but the restaurant’s purpose extends beyond food and drink.
“We strive to make a connection with every person who comes through our doors,” said Ashley.
A central and beloved figure instrumental in making such connections was the late Ryan Pilz, Ruckus’ managing partner and one of Robert’s best friends from college. Pilz, a gregarious, free-spirited maverick, battled cancer throughout much of 2016 and passed away in November.
“Ryan was such a force of nature who never met a stranger and made everyone feel welcome,” Robert explained. “We built the stage for Ryan, and he loved to perform. His fingerprints are all over the place, and his spirit will live on because of all the lives he touched.”
Committed to community
Despite the void that remains in the hearts of Ruckus team members, the Roysters are committed to honoring Pilz’s legacy by continuing to serve their local communities.
“So many restaurants are only about the bottom line, but we’re about being involved and giving back to the community,” Robert said. Whether it’s through the popular “Raising a Ruckus” campaign to benefit needy families during the Christmas season, fundraisers for local schools or food discounts for fire and rescue personnel, altruism abounds.
Thoughtful owner involvement is perhaps the biggest factor in the ongoing success of the Ruckus brand.
“We have low staff turnover because we treat each team member like they are one of our own children,” said Ashley.
Robert also believes the work environment at Ruckus is uniquely special.
“The culture we have created is seen in the way we treat our staff and the staff in turn treats our guests,” he said.
When it comes to the importance of delivering good customer service, Robert doesn’t mince words.
“If you are in this business just to make money, it will not succeed. You must have a servant’s heart.”
That humble approach has yielded tremendous loyalty from clientele for years.
“We see some guests three to five times a week, and we know them by name,” he said.
Not just bar food
No doubt those customers and others appreciate the extensive menu that runs the gamut from specialty pizzas and pastas to salads and burgers. It’s not everywhere you can find an Ahi tuna salad, spicy chicken Alfredo, and brisket tacos with blue cheese slaw on the same bill of fare.
Bestselling appetizers like hand-rolled garlic knots and fried mozzarella sticks are crowd pleasers, but imaginative selections such as buffalo chicken rangoon with Thai chili glaze and blackened mahi shark bites stand apart.
Even more ambitious fare is found in Morrisville’s Park West Village and Cary’s Arboretum locations: made-to-order sushi rolls.
”People don’t expect to find sushi in a pizza place, but we like to help expand their horizons,” Robert said. “We actually have customers who have never tried anything on our menu other than our sushi because they really like it. We have just 16 different rolls, but they are all fantastic.”
Local craft beer, wine by the glass and infused vodkas — from painkillers to strawberry lemonade — cater to ever-expanding tastes. Never mind the half-price meals for kids on Mondays and Tuesdays and the spacious, climate-controlled covered patios at most locations.
“We consider ourselves a true neighborhood restaurant, and I really enjoy seeing someone coming in and having an exceptional experience,” said Robert. “A lot of details have to come into place for that to happen, but I want people to leave with their expectations exceeded.”
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