Going, Going, Gone
Here's what's left of Pizza Time takeout: a small, greasy room full of men, their backs facing the door, almost all of them representing a former competitor. In less than 24 hours, every piece of kitchen equipment -- including the pizza ovens and the giant exhaust fan -- will be hauled away by one or more of these men.
As the bidding heats up, they lean into their cell phones, whispering animatedly in English, Russian and some Middle Eastern language.
Wait -- the front of a man's face! It's auctioneer Bill Dickensheet, who's speaking into a cordless microphone, talking at the speed of light.
" ...now three...now four...one money takes it all!...sold!" A walk-in refrigerator that began at a hundred bucks has crept up slowly, in $25 increments, to $500. Restaurants are closing across town, and equipment is selling cheaply today -- stainless-steel prep tables for $100, an entire computerized ordering system for $10. Now Dickensheet gets to perhaps the least valuable item of all: a set of three framed posters depicting the pizza-making process in industrial detail, complete with pepperoni placement.
"Come on now, people," Dickensheet says. "How much? Learn to make pizza!"
"A buck," someone says.
"I won't take it!" Dickensheet snaps. "Who'll give me $2.50?"
No one. The posters sell for a buck.
The Colorado Department of Revenue, its representatives instantly identifiable because they wear ties, has ordered the sale in order to recoup $31,000 in back taxes. It's not going to happen. The sale wraps up in exactly one hour, with no one offering much for the remains of Rising Dough Enterprises, the husband-and-wife team that brought this Pizza Time franchise to Thornton some five years ago. Daniel and Cheryl Jennie Anema, wherever they are, are out of dough business...permanently.
"They seemed like nice people, a Hispanic guy and a white lady," says a very young woman working at Rentway next door.
"They were real friendly," agrees her co-worker, an even younger-looking man with tattooed arms. "Seemed like they were happy and everything was going okay. We had no idea."
"Except remember one day the lady came in all dressed up? She said she was going to look for a job."
"Sometimes they came over and gave us a pizza. We thought they were fine. An existing customer named Big Dog is extremely upset about all this. That's my dad," the tattooed guy explains.
Together, the Rentway employees uncrate and assemble a double-reclining sofa, setting it up among the big-screen TVs and very large beds.
"I think it's very sad," says Marcia Murphy, who handles leasing for Dunton Realty, which owns the strip mall that houses Rentway and the former home of the pizza takeout store. "Apparently the Pizza Time couple just left. I never knew much about them, except they had children. I don't even know what kind of business they did."
The strip mall was built in 1986, at the corner of 88th Avenue and Pecos Street. Sixteen years later, the blocks around the center are filled with senior housing -- but a field to the north still holds its original farmhouses. Water World is right across the street.
"We never ate their pizza," says a Water World receptionist. "Not to my knowledge. Water World has its own pizza. In season, anyway."
Asked about Pizza Time, the man behind the counter of the two-pump gas station to one side of the franchise responds, "I am not the owner." Nor is the other man working the gas pumps at this spot, an unusual mix of 7-Eleven and gift shoppe known as Gas Mart Cigarette Store Food Store, according to its sign. By the coolers is a notice proclaiming "Food Stamps Accepted Here," as well as the usual coffee with flavored creamer, the chips and the lighters, but the store also offers ceramic dogs with bobbing heads, knock-off Hummel angels and an ornate clock held up by matching china elephants. It has the atmosphere of an outpost -- a way station in a rootless suburb where a blizzard could close everything down in minutes and you might suddenly need that collapsible snow shovel or can of soup.
Presented with this theory, non-owner one says, "I am not the owner." The other non-owner has gone next door to check out the crowd at Pizza Time.
The tax guys are still there, waiting for a tally. They know plenty about the Anemas but are too ethical to spill.
"We have a job to do, and we can't start thinking about the people involved," says Christine Dickensheet, Bill's daughter, who's been today's cashier. "With state seizures, they get plenty of time to come up with the money, so I don't really feel sorry for them. These people hadn't paid taxes since October 2001."
At 32, Christine's been working for her father since she was thirteen. Her brother Everett works for the family auction business, too, and their mother is back at the office, running that part of the enterprise. It's a good job, Everett says, if you like adrenaline.
"You should come tomorrow," Christine suggests. "We're auctioning off an entire airplane."
"To some people, coming to an auction is like gambling," Everett says. "It's nothing but a rush."
The final tally comes to $5,475, about one-sixth of Pizza Time's bill from the state.
"Oh, my God," says John Case, president of Pizza Time, from headquarters in Tacoma, Washington. "Oh, great. I had a feeling when I went out there, I kind of knew they were in trouble. And, yeah -- technically, that's my equipment that got seized."
This is because while Pizza Time sold the Thornton franchise to the Anemas, it also lent the Anemas money for fixtures and operating costs. "They were behind on those payments, too," Case says glumly. "Once you get behind on your taxes, it's really hard to catch up. And they were nice people. Great people. They were also selling a lot of pizza, so I don't know what finally caught up with them."
Although the Anemas did very well at the start, winning several awards from Pizza Time corporate headquarters, something seemed off by this time last year. "For one thing, that place was kind of a pit," Case says. "I told them they needed to re-image. Our stores in Washington and Oregon look almost like Starbucks now, not some shithole."
And appearances matter. With forty stores, Pizza Time is a tiny constellation in the pizza firmament, distinguished only by its price -- "cheap," Case says. "We have really fresh ingredients, but it's basically the same flavor profile as all the other guys. I know we all taste the same."
Still, he has a feeling that cold Thornton winters were made for extra-large, extra-cheap pizzas ($7.49!), and he would like to have salvaged the store. Unfortunately, his agent couldn't come to leasing terms with Dutton Realty.
"And the Colorado tax people really piss me off," Case adds. "I told them, 'Why don't you let me have all the equipment appraised, and I'll just write you a check for it?' They said no, it's not the protocol. I would have ended up giving them about $18,000. But no, it's not the protocol.
"So what am I left with? Nothing."
In the strip-mall parking lot, Brad Thomas and Clete Schares are wrestling a glass-fronted Pepsi cooler into the back of a truck. Both work in construction and have never considered opening a restaurant.
"The plan is to take it home and fill it with beer," Brad says.
"It cost $250, and now I can't afford the beer," Clete complains. "But see, my wife told me if I didn't bring this home, she would kick the shit out of me."
"Bullpecker!" observes his wife, Margo. The Schares have lived on a farm a few miles north of here for thirty years, and they remember when the land now occupied by the strip mall was nothing but dry-land wheat. As owners of a masonry business, however, they are unperturbed by development. The facts of the matter are obvious: Wherever man goes, so go his things.
"I just love all this stuff, is all," Margo says. "Brad has one of those highway "Walk/Don't Walk" signs. I want one."
"Bullcrap!" Clete interjects.
"But look at this great cooler!" Brad says. "Your grandkids can open this and pull themselves out a pop. I mean, too bad for whoever this belonged to, but what a deal."
In the coming months, Robin Chotzinoff will commemorate Westword's 25th anniversary with 25 profiles of Denver today. Click here to read these stories.
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