"I love pizza. No. I love pizza!" And to prove his declaration, Justin Vogel slams his elbows on the bar, revealing a wrist-to-elbow jet-black tattoo inked with the word "pizza."
Vogel and his business partner, Mark Eskow, turned their passion for pizza into a restaurant, opening Right Coast Pizza last week in Wheat Ridge in a former church, which the two spent eight months gutting. "It was really rough when we walked in -- there wasn't much more than bricks and birds living in here," recalls Vogel, an Oklahoma native who moved to Denver a few years ago.
"I come from a bar, restaurant and club scene, and Mark comes from Jersey and pizza shops," says Vogel, adding that he and Eskow began hatching plans to build a pizza joint several years ago while working together in the oil fields in Grand Junction. "We were splitting residency between Denver and Grand Junction, but we knew we wanted to open a place in Denver, so we spent quite a bit of time looking for a space, and when we stumbled upon this, we grabbed it."
The space, painted mustard yellow, boasts original artwork -- oils of downtown Denver -- a fireplace, weathered hardwoods, a garage door that opens to limited patio seating, wooden tables and a cherry bar, the back of which is stocked with spirits, sodas and beers, all of which are from Colorado. "There's just way too much that Colorado offers not to feature all Colorado sodas, beers and spirits," says Vogel. "I'm proud of our state and proud of this neighborhood, and our goal is to represent Colorado as much as possible."
And that includes wines, too...if only he could get them. "I'd have all Colorado wines if I could, but I'm having a helluva time getting a rep who will deliver them to me," he laments. He reveals, too, that in the future, he'd like to have local keg wines along with expanded beer handles, although the current lineup -- brews from Left Hand, New Belgium, Ska and Coors -- isn't bad at all. "The most difficult thing," says Vogel, is "finding wines to pair with our food -- we're picky about that."
And he and Eskow are picky about their brick-oven pizzas, as well. "I think I've probably eaten at every pizza place in this town, and ours rises above," Vogel insists. "It's Jersey-style pizza with a thin crust -- I don't like 'bread' with my pizza -- and our ingredients are top-quality and extremely fresh." They make their own dough, top their Hawaiian pizza with fresh pineapple and honey-baked ham, use fresh roasted chiles on their sausage pizza, and make the sausage in-house.
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And so far, says Vogel, the response has all been positive. "It's been amazing. We've had a ton of repeat customers, some of whom -- I kid you not -- have come in three or four times within the span of one day. It's been really awesome."
Right Coast is open daily for lunch and dinner, and while the joint also does housemade desserts, including whoopie pies, cookies and cannolis, the best parting gift of all may be the custom-made fortune cookies, which conceal slips of paper with pizza wisdom. Mine said, "Pizza and beer just go hand in hand."
I'll toast to that.