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Why the Flame Burned Out at The Roman Candle Pizzeria

The owner of the small Wisconsin chain has grown tired of grappling with staffing challenges and investing in technology.

A small but once-thriving Wisconsin pizza chain will close its last remaining store on February 4—and its reasons are not surprising.

The Roman Candle Pizzeria, which previously had multiple stores in Madison and Middleton, Wisconsin, hasn’t been able to keep up with staffing challenges and declining dine-in traffic, according to news reports.

“Sadly, it is time for us to close The Roman Candle in Middleton,” a January 15 Facebook post read. “The decision to close after years of serving our beautiful community comes with a heavy heart. We’ve enjoyed being a good neighbor to so many wonderful people and businesses over the past 15 years.”

“Restaurant work is not easy,” the post continued. “It takes a load of determination, an extra dose of thick skin and a raging sense of humor. Please keep supporting your local restaurants and businesses—they need your patronage now more than ever.”

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Two Roman Candle stores closed in late 2019—one in Madison and one in Middleton. According to NBC15, the Williamson Street location in Madison also closed last May due to lack of staffing, higher food prices and fewer customers.

His last store was still profitable, but owner Brewer Stouffer received an offer on the building and saw an opportunity “to go out on our own terms,” he told the Wisconsin State Journal.

That publication notes that Stouffer had lost two key employees and was struggling to keep the restaurant staffed. It also stated that Stouffer “wasn’t interested in continuing to hire people and continuing to invest in technology.”

Dine-in used to account for 80% of The Roman Candle’s business, but dining habits have changed in recent years, with more customers opting for carryout and delivery. “It really just wasn’t a great space for our concept as it continued to evolve,” Stouffer said in the Wisconsin State Journal interview.

“It’s really hard to make ends meet with a restaurant these days,” Stouffer added.

Stouffer opened the first Roman Candle store on Williamson Street in Madison. A location in downtown Middleton was known for a large “Love Your Neighbor” sign painted on the side of the building. In the early months of the pandemic, The Roman Candle reportedly donated more than $20,000 in food to local first responders.

Speaking to VisitMiddleton.com in late November 2021, Stouffer expressed his pride in The Roman Candle’s dough.

“We start tomorrow’s dough yesterday,” he said. “It takes two days to make a batch of dough. I believe firmly that any great pizza has to have the right crust. Ours, being an East Coast-style pizza, needs to have flavor and texture that holds up for big slices, and ours does. When you bite into that crust and it has a little toothiness like an al dente pasta and kind of holds its shape, but then it breaks apart and has a rich, nutty flavor—that makes me really happy. I never get tired of eating our pizza, even 17 years later.”