Pizzeria Locale's secret sauce? A partnership with Chipotle Mexican Grill
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."
Danielle Lirette The Pizzeria Locale concept is hot!
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."
Steve Ells keeps cooking up plans.
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."