A rapidly growing pizza business with three Wilmington locations will soon expand its operations across the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge.
This summer, Wheelz Pizza will open its fourth local eatery in Belville at 59 Waterford Business Center Way.
The brainchild of owner Paul Parker and co-owner Joy Spregner, Wheelz delivers its signature wood-fired pizzas in two ways: In addition to a growing network of locations in Wilmington and Charlotte, the business also employs a fleet of state-of-the-art food trucks equipped with mega hot ovens capable of cooking a pie in less than 90 seconds.
The trucks have been particularly successful at Brunswick County events, said Parker, who added that overall, demand for Wheelz Pizza is strong across the bridge.
“A lot of ordering is done online and on a typical Friday, Saturday night, we get more calls from Leland than we can count,” Parker said.
Most of the Wheelz brick-and-mortars are limited to takeout and delivery, but with about 1,800 square feet of space, the new Belville eatery will offer dine-in service for customers. Parker estimated it will open around mid-July.
The first Wheelz opened at 2323 S. 17th St. in 2019, and since then, the business has opened two more eateries in Wilmington: one on Wrightsville Avenue, another in the Fisher Student Center on the University of North Carolina Wilmington campus. Last fall, the company’s first foray into the Charlotte market proved successful enough that a second Charlotte store is set to open later this month. A third Charlotte location could follow by the end of the year.
Parker sees more untapped potential in the Wilmington area, particularly in the service of keeping local delivery as speedy as possible. Currently, he cited an average delivery time for the 17th Street location of seven minutes from oven to front door.
“Several more brick-and-mortar locations could be in the picture in the next 18 months,” he said. Ogden and Monkey Junction were listed as areas of interest.
While Wheelz grows its network of brick-and-mortar locations, the business is simultaneously improving the technology on board its fleet of food trucks. Existing models can cook between 30 and 40 pizzas per hour to the same standard offered by a Wheelz kitchen. The newest prototype, outfitted with more powerful generators, can yield up to 50 pizzas per hour.
Parker credits his employees for the continuously improving efficiency of the trucks.
“Most of the employees that we hired three years ago are still with us. We’ve made six of them managers, and they are on the truck day in and day out,” Parker said. “And it’s continuous improvement.”
As the company considers its next steps to satiate growing demand, all decisions are made with an eye toward maintaining high product standards. Wheelz was founded as a passion project, and the owners are determined to stay true to the quality of the business’s signature scratch-made artisan dough topped with premium ingredients, including a rich and creamy mozzarella produced by Bacio Cheese.
About 1,900 pounds of dough are produced each day at the Wheelz commissary kitchen on Wrightsville Avenue, which Parker noted is no mean feat given the time-intensive process required.
According to Parker, each sourdough crust is crafted using a centuries-old starter from southern Italy’s Ischia Island. The dough is naturally leavened through a 72-hour fermentation process, which allows complex flavors to develop in the dough while breaking down the gluten into a more easily digestible form.
“It’s a delicate process. We don’t use commercial yeast. It’s a pure organic flour, Italian sea salt and purified water,” Parker said.
To meet the swell of orders expected as the brand grows, the business is currently working with contractors on plans to expand the Wrightsville Avenue commissary kitchen.
Have a tip for Restaurant Roundup? Email us at [email protected].