"This is what I call a target-rich environment."
You might hear those words as Top Gun plays on an endless loop on a TV above one of the tables at Danger Zone Calzones, which became the first new restaurant of 2021 when it opened at 32 Broadway on Monday, January 4.
The target? Tender, cheesy calzones made by husband-and-wife team Benjamin Todd and Hillary Schefter, who originally launched Danger Zone as a food truck in August 2018. Like the food truck, the new restaurant embraces an aircraft-carrier theme inspired by the iconic 1986 movie starring Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis.
Todd and Schefter are accustomed to multi-tasking; they got engaged the same month they opened their food truck, so they planned their wedding while slinging calzones to hungry late-night bar patrons downtown. Two and a half years later, they had to deal with building out their eatery while navigating the pandemic and shifting their food truck business to Denver neighborhoods instead of downtown streets. Delays in the initial handover of the space, which was previously half of a liquor store (the other half will become a tea shop), turned out to be a blessing, since it allowed the couple to take their time and open now instead of six months ago, when business would have been far more difficult.
They handled most of the interior themselves, designing Danger Zone to look like the deck of an aircraft carrier. Todd notes that his grandfather was a fighter-jet instructor, so he has many memories of Air Force stories, and the walls and shelves hold memorabilia from his childhood. His grandfather's stories led to his love of Top Gun, which in turn influenced the decor and menu. Todd even built a flight-deck simulator that allows customers to become the air boss and push buttons for a jet-fighter launch sequence, complete with the roar of engines. But the owners are the real air bosses; there's a kill switch behind the counter in case customers get a little too zealous with the buttons.
On the menu, calzones include the Wingman (meatball, pesto and mozzarella), the Maverick (breaded chicken, Frank's Buffalo sauce and cheese), and the Jester (bell pepper, onion, mushroom, pesto and mozz), and there's even a dessert version called That Lovin' Feeling, oozing with Nutella and strawberry sauce. Dipping sauces (garlic butter, marinara, ranch, Buffalo and pesto) and sides (Sidewinder meatballs and Fast Mover breadsticks) are also available.
Todd and Schefter took very different paths to becoming restaurant owners. "I went to Purdue and helped run a calzone shop when I was there," Todd explains. "And I remembered the recipe." Long after that calzone shop went out of business, Todd was growing restless in his career in IT, so he decided to put the recipe to good use by opening his own business. That's when he met Schefter, a classically trained professional harpist who has held many different jobs over the years, including working at a plastic surgery clinic.
"It's all about the dough," Todd explains, noting that calzones are often just an afterthought at pizzerias that use the pizza dough for both, resulting in tough, chewy or crumbly calzones. Danger Zone's recipe has East Coast roots and was designed specifically for calzones, so it can be rolled thin without losing its integrity. The calzones only take a few minutes to prep and cook, making them perfect for the restaurant's counter-service model. The couple's experience serving bar crowds from the food truck led them to add a heated display case at the front of the store so they can pre-bake calzones in batches and quickly serve long lines of customers.
They're not anticipating those crowds any time soon, since most of the bars on Broadway are either closed right now or operating at a restricted capacity — and last call is currently at 10 p.m. But the little shop has only a few tables inside, and the calzones are made to carry and eat (Todd says he'll mock you if he sees you eating one with a fork), so business is built for pandemic-based restrictions as well as for a time when those restrictions are eased.
Danger Zone Calzones is now open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; later hours will be added as bar crowds slowly return. Call or text 720-900-5282 or order online.
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