Walking down East Colfax toward the Ogden Theatre, it's easy to miss Jonathan Mora's new vegan pizza shop, which sits unassumingly inside a shared kitchen space at 911 East Colfax, better known as the Pita Grill and Hookah Lounge.
"I'm still waiting on signage," explains Mora, a third-generation pizzaiolo. But his customers — who have been known to fly and drive for hours to feast on his meat- and dairy-free concoctions, including a recent Chicken N Waffles mashup — couldn't care less.
"We live down in the Springs and actually came all the way up here for the pizza after seeing it online," says Tyler McDaniel, a thirty-year-old from Colorado Springs who stopped by Mora Pizza with his girlfriend, Shelby Dover, on March 11.
"We originally were going to look for Chicken Parmesan, but [Mora] said he was sold out, and a cheeseburger pizza was all he could make for us. And it was incredible," McDaniel notes. "We've never had a cheeseburger pizza, let alone a vegan cheeseburger pizza, so this was great. We will definitely be driving back up here to get it."
With more than 20,000 followers on Instagram, Mora Pizza has become a speakeasy-style pizza joint of sorts since opening up in its permanent home in February. No other pizza shop in Denver has that many Instagram followers at the moment — not even local powerhouses like Blue Pan, Grabowski's or Cart-Driver. Scrolling through Mora's feed, it's easy to see why.
Armed with decades of ’za-making knowledge and experience, Mora has managed to conjure up a New York-style menu that includes plant-based takes on classics — like plain cheese and white-sauce slices — while also offering popular and peculiar pizza-fied mashups such as Baked Ziti, Birthday Cake, Peach Pie and S’Mores. He serves what he calls "proper" 18-inch pies, $5 specialty slices, calzones, strombolis, subs, pasta and even garlic knots. His most beloved pizza creations are the Chicken Parm, Meatball Parm and Buffalo Chicken with ranch, but he's also been known to sell out of Lasagna and Baked Ziti pies, too. And it's not just regulars who are buying them.
"I had this customer last week from Germany. She said she had been following the Instagram; she's a stewardess and happened to be flying in [to Denver]," Mora says. "She came straight here just for the pizza."
Before opening his Denver location, Mora previously ran shops in Miami and New York. He began coming out to Colorado "two to three years ago" and started doing pop-ups around Denver, which is how many customers got to know him.
While there are other vegan pizza options in town, including the all-vegan Everyday Pizza, Cancro and other customers say that it remains a tough thing to track down. "Once I went vegan, finding good pizza became one of those things that became really difficult for me," Cancro notes. "The cheese doesn't melt right, or you don't get fun toppings. But all of Mora's stuff is so good."
One of the major reasons that his pizza is so well received, Mora says, is because the dough recipe comes from his grandfather, an old-school nonno who unknowingly churned out vegan-style dough for years. "He didn't use any dairy products, no eggs," Mora remembers, noting how his grandfather wasn't even close to being vegan. "Not at all," he adds, laughing. "And still, he gave me the foundation to do what I love."
Now hunkered down permanently in the Centennial State, the proud pizza maker hopes that his Colfax location will be the first of several Mora Pizzas in the area, with at least one setup being planned for the world's most famous amphitheater.
"I want to get into Red Rocks. That is the goal," Mora declares. For now, though, being nestled inside the Pita Grill — just a stone's throw from the Ogden and Fillmore theaters — is perfectly fine with him and his fans.
"It's hard to find, but the product that he makes is good," says former New Yorker and repeat customer Amit Kumar, who chatted with Westword while waiting on a veggie pie. "And people appreciate that."