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At St. Petersburg’s The Violet Stone, well-done pizza and Philly cheesesteaks

The company started small as a food truck but has grown quickly with a pizza style that’s unique for the Tampa Bay area.
 
The Classic Pizza, made with Bianco tomatoes and mozzarella, is removed after baking at 680 degrees in an oven at The Violet Stone, 2134 9th Ave. N., in St. Petersburg.
The Classic Pizza, made with Bianco tomatoes and mozzarella, is removed after baking at 680 degrees in an oven at The Violet Stone, 2134 9th Ave. N., in St. Petersburg. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sept. 30, 2023|Updated Oct. 2, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — Daniel Fekete knows his pizza is not for everyone.

The “well-done” pies he and his wife Brittany Costello make at The Violet Stone are not Neapolitan, that ubiquitous style with thin dough that gets blistered in a very hot oven for a very short amount of time. The pizza here is larger, with a slightly thicker crust that is made from scratch, loaded with toppings and then cooked in a wood/coal oven until it’s, well, really done.

The edges are charred. The cheese is bubbled and brown. The crust is downright crispy.

“We have to warn people. We just put a hazard sign on the door saying our pizza is well done,” Fekete said by phone recently. “It’s a love-hate thing for sure.”

Dan Fekete distributes servings of whole milk, low-moisture mozzarella onto a pair of pizzas on Friday, Sep 29. 2023.
Dan Fekete distributes servings of whole milk, low-moisture mozzarella onto a pair of pizzas on Friday, Sep 29. 2023. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Fekete had big dreams when he moved from Philadelphia to St. Petersburg with his wife and kids in 2020.

He grew up in kitchens, working in the restaurant industry until he was 21 when he got in early at a tech startup in Philadelphia. He traveled a ton, made good money and “worked 365 for eight years.”

“I realized at a certain point that I wanted nothing to do with that life,” Fekete said. “I wanted to do something that felt real. That didn’t feel real.”

What he wanted to do was start his own food business. The original concept was a high-end cafe: small plates, pizza, coffee and cocktails. Something that was open all day and offered a little bit of everything.

“Then we spent the day sitting in Intermezzo,” a St. Petersburg spot that serves coffee during the day and cocktails at night, shortly after moving here, Fekete said. “And we realized there are plenty of places like that down here already. It’s not like that in Philly.”

Menu items are displayed at The Violet Stone.
Menu items are displayed at The Violet Stone. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

He credits his wife with keeping his aspirations realistic, saying it was her idea to start off small once they pivoted away from the cafe idea. They opted for a food truck, learning the ins and outs of St. Pete and taking about two months to get everything up and running. And they landed on just one thing to offer: pizza.

“What’s more foolproof than pizza?” Fekete said.

They officially launched The Violet Stone about a year ago, going out once a week around Halloween on the truck and steadily building a following. They didn’t have their full menu set, and Fekete’s plans for the future were still taking shape. But pizza was a solid foundation, even if theirs was a style of pizza Floridians may not be used to.

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“We don’t do a traditional Neapolitan pizza, which is where the fad went. ... That’s not the style of pizza I grew up with,” Fekete said. “I grew up with well-done pizza. A lot of people expect Neapolitan, so it’s a bit different for people down here.”

Fekete enters the food truck that still houses the pizza oven at The Violet Stone.
Fekete enters the food truck that still houses the pizza oven at The Violet Stone. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

While the food truck business was chugging along, they acquired their current brick-and-mortar location at 2134 Ninth Ave. N. in St. Pete. They needed a bigger kitchen to prep the food, which until that point had happened mostly in their home. The storage room attached to the space seemed perfect for creating a takeout model. They embraced that over the idea of a full restaurant, again hoping to keep things small and manageable.

They don’t take the food truck out anymore, because the business is sustainable without it. The truck is sitting in a lot behind their storefront, but it’s not totally out of commission: It houses a large oven — a hybrid model that uses both wood and coal to cook the pizzas.

Their menu has expanded from the handful of varieties they sold on the food truck. Now, you’ll find a dozen or so pies, everything from the SweetiePie with mozzarella, pancetta and candied jalapenos to The Philly Special that’s topped with mozzarella, Bianca DiNapoli tomato sauce, hot sausage, long hots, ricotta, basil and parmesan. There are also fries, salads and dessert.

Pizzas at The Violet Stone are cooked in a well-done style.
Pizzas at The Violet Stone are cooked in a well-done style. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Nestled in a small plaza just before an Interstate 275 overpass, you would never know The Violet Stone was there unless you were looking for it. This is somewhat intentional.

“I just recently tried to get our Google page taken down,” said Fekete, who would rather grow the business through word-of-mouth from customers who love what they’re selling.

“We’re not trying to make a business for everybody,” he said. “People who don’t like it, I recommend places that I think are best for them. We also have plenty of people tell us we’re the best pizza in the city. We don’t cater to everybody.”

Two months ago, The Violet Stone added sandwiches to their menu. It was another chance to bring a taste of Philly to St. Pete.

A cheesesteak sandwich, made with sliced ribeye, American cheese and a sesame-seeded house roll.
A cheesesteak sandwich, made with sliced ribeye, American cheese and a sesame-seeded house roll. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“I always wanted to do a sandwich shop, but it’s impossible to do it at a high quality unless you have the space for it.”

The priority? Cheesesteaks, of course.

“I really wanted to make a good hoagie roll,” Fekete said. Something soft, but able to hold up to almost a pound of meat and a pound of cheese.

Fekete said now, they sell more sandwiches than pizza.

“Why overcomplicate it?” he said. “Just make good food, and people will respond to it.”

Fekete rolls a batch of fresh whole milk mozzarella on Friday, Sep 29. 2023, before baking pizzas at The Violet Stone.
Fekete rolls a batch of fresh whole milk mozzarella on Friday, Sep 29. 2023, before baking pizzas at The Violet Stone. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]