Exclusive first look: Live Basil Pizza opens Thursday in south Denver
All photos by Lori Midson.
Tom Ryan and his partner Rick Schaden are on a roll -- a burger roll, a 24/7 restaurant roll and a pizza roll. The two men, both of whom are the entrepreneurial brains behind Consumer Concept Group, one of the country's top companies in the field of restaurant development and investment, founded Smashburger, which now trumpets more than 220 locations across the world, including 22 in Colorado. Last year, on Halloween, they unleashed Tom's Urban 24, a 24/7 food temple that's also expanding outside of Colorado, and on Thursday of this week, Ryan and Schaden will open Live Basil Pizza, their first fast-casual pizza chain, located just off I-25 and Hampden...and conveniently next door to Smashburger.
Like Smashburger, Live Basil is intended to feed its followers quickly, efficiently generously and inexpensively. "We wanted to create a new and modern generational concept that served one of the most popular foods in America -- pizza -- in a highly distinctive, differentiated way," explains Ryan. And, to that end, he adds, "You'll find everything from hand-stretched doughs and organic San Marzano tomatoes to live hydroponic basil and other organic, natural, authentic or imported ingredients." And, yes, local, too, when the staff can source from backyard growers.
The high-ceilinged space, dominated by mint green- and saffron-hued walls exposing metal, back lit cut-outs of vegetables and herbs and a flame symbolic of the gas-fired pizza oven aromatic with burning shards of soaked oak, is counter service, and what's noticeably different about the pizza concept is the transparency. It's the peeping Tom (no pun intended) of pizza joints, whereby guests place their order at the beginning of the process: doughs are rolled out, stretched, hand-docked and sauced as you peek over the see-through barrier that separates the line from the voyeurs; cheeses, including fresh mozzarella, goat, herbed whole milk ricotta, or an Italian cheese blend are scattered on the sauce, then the toppings, of which there are 21, dot the surface and the pizzas are finished with a dusting of sea salt, a drizzle of olive oil and a shake of Grana Padano before they're slid into an 600-degree stone temperature oven and yanked after just two minutes; the whole process takes about four minutes -- and you get to see every step as you move through the line.
"The ingredients are the best of the best and it all adds up to the freshest pizza you've ever had," says Schaden, noting that your basil is hand-plucked by a herb picker every single time. "We're offering people a piping hot pizza with fresh basil picked right off the plant, and the pizzas are made and out of the oven in less than four minutes -- who else is doing that?"
Ryan and Schaden began mulling the idea over a year ago, spending six months in a test kitchen playing around with Neapolitan-style recipes. What emerged from their months of practice is a board of eleven-inch, thin-crusted pizzas, seven of which the menu calls "Favorites," plus another six "Signature" pizzas and a "Create Your Own" section, which pimps ingredients that you don't see everywhere else: bison sausage, Kurobuta ham, fire-roasted Hatch green chiles, a garlic-roasted medley of fresh mushrooms and spicy giardiniera, for example, all of which can also be mounted on a gluten-free crust.
"We talk about what the right opportunities and where to spend our energy and resources, and we think that the pizza business is ripe for change," says Ryan. "People want fresher, more authentic, high quality and modern pizzas and that's what we're doing here." That -- along with hand-spun fruit and Haagan Dazs sorbet smoothies, huge salads, beer, wine, Boylan sodas and environmentally-friendly water in white-and-black boxes.
And this is just the first of many Live Basil Pizzas that the duo plans to open in Colorado and across the country. Ryan and Schaden will open two more, one in Northglenn at 104th Avenue and Federal in late June, and another in Stapleton, just off 35th and Quebec later this year. And then, pizza domination.
"This is the real thing," promises Ryan.
Live Basil Pizza will open Thursday at 11 a.m., and its regular hours will be from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Here's a sneak peek of what you'll see -- and eat -- when you go. For more info, call 303-756-6176.