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Last June, when Pizzeria Locale closed five locations in Cincinnati and Kansas City as part of majority stakeholder Chipotle’s restructuring under new CEO Brian Niccol, co-owner and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson was heartbroken. “It’s the first time we ever had to do anything like that [at Pizzeria Locale],” he says, “and it was a real kick in the face for the entire team.” The fledgling, Denver-born pizza brand had to find a new way forward in its home market under unfamiliar leadership.
“[Co-owner] Bobby [Stuckey] and I went to Brian [Niccol] to present our vision for Pizzeria Locale, which hasn’t changed from day one: cooking by hand; reimagining the way fast-food pizza can be; and doing that in Denver,” Mackinnon-Patterson says. Niccol was receptive.
“I think Pizzeria Locale has a pizza with a point of difference,” Niccol told 5280. “In its food, in the way [the food is] created, the ingredients we’re choosing to source, and ultimately, in the experience when you eat it. I don’t see a lot of pizza places that exist that way.” Niccol offered Mackinnon-Patterson and his team Chipotle’s full support as they “retrenched” at its two existing Mile High City locations. Today, Niccol confirms that Pizzeria Locale has “tightened up” its operations and economics over the past nine months.
“When we were spread out over so many markets with such a small team,” Mackinnon-Patterson explains, “it was difficult to focus on operations and fundamentals. Now, we’re with the team daily, coaching them and working on the basics. That’s the way to mitigate turnover, inspire the team, and develop people, which creates a better business.”
Pizzeria Locale has also invested in online ordering, delivery service through vendors such as DoorDash and Postmates, and streamlining the pickup process at each location. “Since our pizzas take only a few minutes to cook, the delivery speed has been extraordinary,” Mackinnon-Patterson says. With cars often waiting outside Pizzeria Locale restaurants, guests living within a mile or so can often get their order delivered in under 15 minutes. “Things have never been better in every aspect: team, sales, momentum,” Mackinnon-Patterson says. “And here we are, about to open two more stores. It’s what we should have done five years ago.”
Niccol agrees. “I’m optimistic about the two new restaurants [Pizzeria Locale] is opening in Denver,” he says. “If we’re successful there, I’d love to see Pizzeria Locale become as powerful a pizza concept as we do in Mexican fast-casual [with Chipotle]. That’d be a home run.”
The first of the new Pizzeria Locale openings will take place in Stapleton (7505 E. 29th Place) sometime this summer. Working with local architecture and design firm Raw Creative, this second local outpost at the northwest corner of Founders’ Green will have a warm, updated look-and-feel with plenty of natural light coming from two full walls of windows. “We’re introducing lighter wood tones, and bringing in more plants to give it a Colorado vibe,” says Mike Blea, Raw’s co-owner and architect. “We want to strengthen the connection to the outdoors given the location’s proximity to the park; there will be high-tops overlooking the park in the front [of the restaurant] where people can work remotely. We’re planning to integrate old Stapleton Airport elements through custom lighting fixtures and other small touches, too.”
The second opening (895 N. Albion St.) is scheduled for the end of the year (if not early 2020), at the new complex at ninth and Colorado. With planning in the early stages, Blea can only say that they intend to draw on the history of the Hale neighborhood and the site’s former medical center as they design Pizzeria Locale’s fourth location.
Despite fears that Chipotle moving its headquarters to California might signal danger for Pizzeria Locale, the new builds and support from Niccol indicate otherwise. After all, Niccol is himself a big fan of Mackinnon-Patterson’s food. “Whenever I pass through Denver, I make a point to swing by [Pizzeria Locale] and usually get the Pizzeria salad, a prosciutto and arugula pizza, and a budino,” Niccol admits. “My wife teases me that I never bring any back for her.”