by KY HUYNH
UMW students returning to campus for the spring 2024 semester faced a drastic change in the Eagle’s Nest with the departure of Vocelli Pizza. Currently, the storefront has been obscured by large blue curtains with a banner announcing an undisclosed Italian food concept.
Vocelli Pizza opened over 12 years ago and became a popular retail dining location for students since it featured many food options other than pizza, including baked subs, pasta and desserts.
John Icaunato, the franchise owner of Vocelli Pizza, retired at the end of the fall 2023 semester after his contract to operate expired, and he chose to close the business.
Iacunato spoke on the store’s success at UMW.
“I believe we were most successful in providing a great product with great service and value for the entire campus community,” he said.
Many students found Vocelli’s offerings and hours suitable to their needs, which led the restaurant to become a staple on the UMW campus.
“It was definitely the first retail dining that I ever found where it was on campus,” said Chiara Baez, a sophomore historic preservation major. “I easily used all my commercial meal swipes at Vocelli’s in freshman year.”
On weekdays, Vocelli Pizza closed at 10 p.m., which was convenient for students who had classes or athletic obligations in the evening. The only other dining location on campus open that late is the Simply To Go Market, which is also located in the Eagle’s Nest.
“For my experience, I went there a lot since it was really the only place open later on,” said Jeremy Wacker, a junior communication and digital studies major. “I usually go to basketball and afterward I come to eat it.”
Vocelli was also affordable to students with meal plans, as one meal swipe provided two slices of pizza and a small beverage.
“I did think it was nice because it was one of the only places where you could actually get something for a meal swipe outside of the UC,” said Wacker. “Because everything else is meal and flex but here you can get the pizza and that’s no flex.”
Additionally, the majority of Vocelli Pizza team members were UMW students, since the restaurant offered on-campus jobs as shift managers and pizza makers—also known as “insiders.” The insiders were tasked with prepping food, cutting and boxing pizza and attending to the register.
Team members were paid $13–16 an hour, and their salary varied depending on their job position and time working at Vocelli Pizza.
“Since the majority of our team members were UMW students, we had the opportunity to help them earn some money and provide a great work environment,” said Iacunato. “I must also tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed my time working on the UMW campus.”
When UMW Dining began looking for new contracts, rumors spread quickly among dining employees that change was imminent.
“I was nervous about closing because there was a rumor from someone who worked in Dining,” said former Vocelli employee and UMW alumna Tamara Garrett ‘23.
However, many workers—including managers—were unaware of its impending closure.
“I didn’t think anything was gonna happen,” said Garrett. “I was like, ‘Oh, maybe they’re just talking about the end of the year.’”
According to Garrett, employees received a message two days into winter break notifying them that the franchise would not be returning for the spring semester.
Many students were also unaware of the closure as they returned to campus for the spring semester and were surprised to see Vocelli Pizza covered with a blue curtain.
“I was actually pretty surprised when I heard it shut down because I didn’t know,” said Wacker. “When I came here the first day I was expecting to just go like usual.”
The Eagle’s Nest offers other dining options such as Hissho Sushi, Mein Bowl and the Simply To Go Market. Even so, because of Vocelli’s popularity, students have noticed a decline in socialization in the Eagle’s Nest since its closing.
“I’ve never seen Eagle’s Nest this dead this time of day or this early in the semester when everyone still has swipes and flex and stuff,” said Baez.
In place of Vocelli Pizza, UMW Dining plans to announce a new Italian food concept.
“We are not quite able to share all the details about what is coming next but are working diligently to finalize a new agreement with a local partner,” said UMW Dining General Manager Kyle Kouri. “What we can share is that the new restaurant will offer a menu that will be enjoyed by students, faculty and staff and will continue to offer a variety of items students enjoyed in the past when visiting the Eagle’s Nest.”
Vocelli Pizza founder Varol Ablak and his family opened their first store in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 1989. Four years later, Ablak established his first franchise, and now over 100 Vocelli stores are open to serve the public.
Vocelli Pizza is still open nationally, and students can still find the restaurant located at 1911 Plank Rd. in Fredericksburg, Va.