The owner of Rice ‘n Shine plans a new Italian restaurant, with talks of expanding existing businesses

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When she was just 14 years old, Danielle Mercury began working in the restaurant industry. And after a few years of working at a desk, she realized that she was not meant to sit at a desk. Finding herself unemployed with three children to raise, Mercury decided to become a waitress at Rise N Shine.

Now, eight years later, she owns a popular brunch spot as well as a quirky burger shop called Loaded. She is partnering with local entrepreneur Adam Weitzman to create an Italian restaurant in Carrier Circle that will open in the fall.

The menu will be as unique as the other two restaurants, she said, only with classic, old-school Italian flavors. The ambiance inside makes eating at the restaurant a complete experience, she said.

“It’s going to be super high, and it’s going to be a place you’ve never seen here in Syracuse,” Mercury said.

She hired Filippo Di Paola, a native of northern Italy who had lived in the United States for seven years, to be the chef of the new restaurant. The taste and flavor will be authentic to Di Paola’s homeland, but it will be plated “our way”, according to Mercury, which means more unusual and unexpected combinations in the oven.

After a few years of running Rice 'n' Shine, Danielle Mercury opened a quirky burger joint called Loaded.  |  Meghan Hendricks, photo editor

After a few years of running Rice ‘n’ Shine, Danielle Mercury opened a quirky burger joint called Loaded. | Meghan Hendricks, photo editor

During her four years as a host on Rise ‘n’ Shine, Mercury was especially close to her then-husband Peter Hennessy. And they learned from each other — he taught her how to cook in a formal kitchen, while she taught him marketing techniques to improve business, she said.

Sometime later, Hennessy was diagnosed with leukemia. While in the hospital, Mercury asked him to take over the restaurant. Although she renovated the building and changed the menu, she wanted to keep Pete’s body in the business.

“His home roaster is the same roaster as the one we have now,” she said. “I never change the recipe.”

In other words, Mercury prepared the little dinner herself. From traditional eggs and pancakes to over-the-top milkshakes and flavored pancake flights, she initially turned the quaint breakfast spot on Thompson Road in DeWitt into a packed restaurant with long lines waiting for tables.

With sales consistently increasing by an average of 30% per year, the restaurant’s small building could not handle the demand, Mercury said. She decided to take Rise N Shine to Westcott Street with a modern redesign.

But Mercury kept the old Rise N Shine building. Last year she renewed it to Lode. She built a ’90s-themed burger joint to generate income and work during the pandemic, and it took off.

Although Mercury has yet to reveal when and where, a second Loaded location is already underway. In addition to the Italian restaurant in the works, she wants to open more Rice ‘N Shine locations on the East Coast and possibly a Loaded franchise in the next few years.

Her current two restaurants are especially known for exotic mashups of bulgogi on hot dogs, a dirty plate fix on burgers, pork belly and fried onions piled on poached eggs and English muffins. And the culinary creativity extends to the toppings—Rice ‘n Shin waffle fries dipped in Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal butter.

Al Ferrenti, the district general manager for both restaurants, will focus on the new Italian restaurant after the opening. Ferretti, one of about 100 employees now, sees the Mercury practice as promising to expand.

“I know this company is going to grow. I know it’s going to grow fast, (and) I know it’s going to grow,” Ferretti said.

Mercury took the restaurant business by storm with her amazing culinary creations and entrepreneurial mindset, and earned the admiration of her staff in the process. But as a woman, she said, she didn’t always have that kind of support.

“It’s tough being a woman in the industry, having men beneath you and how they feel about working for a woman,” Mercury said. I had a few who couldn’t stand me being their boss.

Aside from the new chef and the Italian cuisine, Mercury isn’t giving away much about the newly opened restaurant, including its name. But expect to hear more about her latest restaurant endeavor in the next few months, she said.

“Three is just the beginning,” Ferrenti said.

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