Food—and the way we experience that food—means something different to just about everyone. For some, it’s grabbing a quick bagel before dashing off to catch the bus. For others, it’s sitting down with family every evening for a home-cooked meal. But for Brewer Stouffer, the founder of The Roman Candle, food has always stood for so much more—it’s a way of life.
Born and bred outside of Austin, Texas, Stouffer grew up with a deep love for food. First came the comforting smells from his mom’s Midwestern cooking. Then came the regionally-inspired fare from nearby taco trailers and smokehouses on the outskirts of town, where fresh tortillas were churned out daily by hand and slabs of brisket slowly sizzled in plumes of hickory smoke. Dining out was a special experience shared with his family that he intensely savored.
As Stouffer got older, that passion only deepened. In this twenties, he studied and traveled in Europe for a year, where he ate his way through small Italian pizzerias in Tuscany—mesmerized by the simplicity of fresh San Marzano tomatoes and hand-pulled mozzarella. He sampled ceviche in Seville and street food in Munich and Budapest. And he sipped on afternoon beers in corner cafes as he listened to the lively sounds of locals catching up over lunch in Brussels, Paris and London.
He didn’t know it at the time, but every moment and every flavor was being catalogued piece by piece within his expanding culinary memory. It became more than just taking pleasure in expertly crafted meals—he realized that restaurants were a special zone where people could share stories and enjoy the company of others, to truly embrace the human experience.
And yet, despite all of these experiences, Stouffer never once thought about opening his own restaurant. Until, suddenly, he did.
“I’ve been an active witness to this crazy food revolution over the last 25 years, but I was initially just an observer and an eater. I realized I was hungry for creating my own authentic experiences with food and place—I continued to travel and eat like a local, but I also started cooking more and more, and participating in some amazing communal dinners in the Madison food scene at in the early 2000s,. I connected the dots between great food, great folks, and a great setting. And I discovered anew what every successful restaurant and bar owner knows in their gut: that when you stich it all together, a certain magic spell is cast,” Stouffer said. “At a certain point, I decided it was finally time to embrace everything I had gathered over the years and do the right thing—I wanted to cast my own pizza spell to create the very type of restaurant I had fallen in love with over and over again since I was an ankle bitter.”
In 2005, Stouffer officially opened the doors to his very first restaurant—The Roman Candle—in Madison, Wisconsin. The sights, sounds, smells and flavors that Stouffer enjoyed throughout the decades had all culminated into this—a one-of-a-kind pizzeria that prides itself on farm-fresh ingredients, quality sourcing and a craft, handmade approach.
“From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to serve superior pizza in an inspiring space. I insisted on using pure ingredients and premium products—the kind that you know are quality, that come from real farms,” Stouffer said. “When we first opened, we had five local beers on tap—no Miller or Budweiser products. We went out of our way to buy food from farmers markets. That was a big deal at the time, and it showed our commitment to pure food and our community. It put a human element into everything we did and still do.”
Stouffer also believed in never taking food for granted—which meant paying respect to those homegrown ingredients by cooking everything slowly and thoughtfully from scratch.
“No matter how much people try to automate food these days, I’ll always firmly believe in making our food from scratch every single day. There’s so much more to it than just opening a bag, adding water and hitting the ‘start’ button on the rethermolater. It’s about appreciating the beauty in slowly caramelizing onions or the smells of a simmering mirepoix. Yes, it takes more time, and yes, it can be a pain in the ass—but there’s a certain romance to the daily ritual of it all,” Stouffer said. “These processes, and these choices, define who we are. The second our chef fires up the oven in the morning, it’s like the entire restaurant comes alive.”
Over the years, as The Roman Candle grew to five locations throughout Wisconsin, and, most recently, opened up its business to franchising. Stouffer’s characteristic passion that has fueled the brand for more than a decade hasn’t wavered. In fact, it’s now stronger than ever before. That’s because he wants to inspire future business owners to see what he sees—that The Roman Candle is something truly special, and it’s time to bring that one-of-a-kind experience to neighborhoods throughout the country.
“When I ask people why they like working at The Roman Candle, they always tell me they love making and serving food from scratch, and they are proud to work for a company that cares so much about everything we do . We’re obsessive about the food we serve and the experience we provide—it’s patterned into our very DNA,” Stouffer said. “That’s something I’m incredibly proud of, and I think that anyone else who joins The Roman Candle team will be, too.”
To learn more about The Roman Candle, click here.