Scene

Idea Man

You may not know Tom Ryan, but you’ve probably eaten his food.

November 2012

Tom Ryan, the Denver restaurateur behind the soon-to-open Tom’s Urban 24 in Larimer Square, has unusual bragging rights. In the 1990s, he created two of the decade’s smash-hit fast-food products: Pizza Hut stuffed-crust pizza and McDonald’s syrup-infused McGriddle breakfast sandwiches. Both items remain top sellers today.

Ryan went on to join Quiznos and, in 2007, he founded Smashburger (a concept he considers his ode to the hamburger). Last year, he added Tossa, a fast-casual wood-fired pizza shop in Boulder, to his restaurant empire. Perhaps most notable is Ryan’s trajectory: His move from multibillion dollar entities to the stand-alone Tom’s Urban 24 in Denver shows a progressive effort to scale down and become more niche-oriented. 

Along the way, Ryan has demonstrated a keen sense of what the customer wants. At Tom’s Urban 24, that means affordable and accessible modern comfort food. Try Ryan’s riff on the Pop-Tart (made with house-made pie crust and filled with fig and goat cheese) and see if he’s succeeded. In the meantime, here’s a look at his storied career.