Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey, founders of Frasca Food and Wine, know the rules of classic pizza-making as well as fine-dining. They've been to Italy several times; their team members went there before they launched the original Pizzeria Locale in Boulder 2011. But they broke one of the cardinal rules when they opened Pizzeria Locale in Denver this past May, working with engineers to design a rotational hearth oven powered by gas and infrared, the only one of its kind in the world -- and a definite break from tradition. When Gretchen Kurtz reviewed Denver's Pizzeria Locale in September, she called it "Pizzeria Locale, Steve Ells-style, where you order at the counter and watch a line of white-shirted, red-hatted employees spoon toppings from metal containers onto dough that's loaded onto the spinning oven floor." The result was consistently delicious pizza coming out of that oven in just two minutes. "The concept behind Denver's Pizzeria Locale sure has its strong points," she concluded. "How far can Patterson, Stuckey and crew take it? God only knows."
God, and maybe Chipotle founder Steve Ells.
Ells founded his first Chipotle Mexican Grill at 1644 East Evans Avenue twenty years ago, and today there are more than a thousand outlets around the world.
He's been a friend of the Frasca partners for more than a decade, Mackinnon-Patterson says, "and we've always talked about the possibility of some kind of collaboration." That talk became concrete two years ago, when Chipotle Mexican Grill and the Frasca founders partnered to launch a Pizzeria Locale in Denver -- but one that would turn the full-service concept into a fast-casual concept, cutting prices without sacrificing on quality.
Ells's experience with Chipotle was invaluable. "The combination of the two businesses working together is a very lethal combination," he explains. "Chipotle is the best in the business at feeding people on a larger scale with the same kind of ingredients we use at Frasca. We thought a lot of those ideas just weren't possible."
But with Chipotle's operational knowledge, they discovered they were. "We realized we could change the ways people think about pizza...how can we serve the same ingredients at less than half the price. Shockingly, it's worked," he says. In fact, prices in Denver were recently cut.
"Opening Pizzeria Locale using a model similar to Chipotle allows us to make extraordinary pizza, made with high-quality ingredients accessible to everyone," Ells says in a statement announcing the partnership.
"Chipotle and Frasca have much more in common than they do apart," adds Mackinnon-Patterson. "They really care about the customer, about ingredients, about service. They don't want to compromise, and they don't."
Well, there was one compromise. Although Ells and Chipotle Mexican Grill partnered with Stuckey and Mackinnon-Patterson two years ago to pioneer the Denver store, they kept the relationship a secret. But now they're acknowledging the partnership. "It became more complicated than it needed to be," says Mackinnon-Patterson. "We were kind of stifled at times because of the secret." "For me it's kind of been a pain in the tush," says Stuckey. "We have this business in Boulder that's just us, with no investors, and you have this situation which is the whole other end of the spectrum -- and not to be in a position to discuss that was uncomfortable. I'm glad we can now."
So the the secret's out, which means the partners can be public about the options they're exploring for additional locations in Denver -- and only Denver right now. "We've come a long way in a short time," Mackinnon-Patterson notes. "We feel we can look at something more."
But those locations will definitely be based on the Denver store, and a version of that oven -- now in its third iteration. "It created the kind of efficiencies we needed," he says. "We're going to continue to work on it, keep improving it."
Just as they'll work on the original concept. "Denver is still very new," Mackinnon-Patterson concludes. "Everything from ingredients to the way we can source ingredients, the people culture, all are going to continue to mature and evolve. We're really excited about that."
And how far can they go? God only knows.
You can read the full press release from Chipotle below:
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