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I still remember the first time, circa 2011, I stepped inside the original Pizzeria Locale location on Boulder’s Pearl Street. Recently opened by the team behind fine-dining icon Frasca Food and Wine next door, the full-service Neapolitan pizza joint was humming but not slammed. My then boyfriend (now husband) and I were just looking for a takeout pie. When we asked the host if we could order one, we were met with an expression of mild horror.
“Oh, no,” he responded. “That would compromise the integrity of the crust.” So when, a couple of years later, the restaurant group launched a fast-casual concept by the same name in Denver, we had a good laugh. The 3,000-square-foot Broadway location had dine-in space, but like most Chipotle-style eateries, it was built to accommodate carry-away and catering orders. (Speaking of Chipotle—in a dramatic twist, it was revealed in 2014 that the Denver-born chain was a secret partner in the project from the outset.)
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Although the pizza was never meant to be exactly the same as the perfectly charred specimens made at the Boulder flagship, it came deliciously close—at a much more approachable cost, which was part of the plan. “We’ve got a huge problem in the United States,” Frasca co-owner and master sommelier Bobby Stuckey told 5280’s then restaurant critic in 2014. “Sometimes it seems like the only people who can eat good food are wealthy people.”
For a decade, Pizzeria Locale subverted that dynamic. Prices for its individual, 11-inch pies—cooked in about two minutes in 1,000-degree ovens—crept up from around $6 to more like $12 over the years, but they always felt like a steal for the quality and quantity. The elevated ingredients (prosciutto, roasted corn and artichoke, chile oil) were fresh. The sauce was never too acidic. And the chew on the blistered crust was consistently delightful—better if eaten immediately in-house, yes, but I wouldn’t say “compromised” when taken out.
Over the years, I became something of a Pizzeria Locale superfan. I dragged my girlfriends to a dough-making class at the West Highland location. I got a T-shirt. I insisted on confusing new staffers by trying to order a “saucy Bianca” (insider code for adding red sauce to the original menu’s pork sausage and broccolini white pie) long after that moniker had been swapped out for the simpler title of “Sausage and Broccolini.”
When I learned in early July that all five Denver spots would soon be closing, I made one last Friday night pilgrimage. I eschewed the online ordering system and insisted my husband and our 2.5-year-old come along for the full experience of watching the pizzaiolos stretch, toss, and top the dough balls to order. After a good 20-minute wait in line with other devotees who clearly had the same idea, I pointed out our pies making their way around the glowing oven to my toddler. We took them to go—along with a salad and three adorable butterscotch budinos, of course—and no one said a word about the impact on the crust.
Despite my continued devotion, had Pizzeria Locale run its course with other Denver diners? Did labor shortages do it in? Or is it simply a fiscal impossibility, in 2023, to continue offering such high-quality food at such affordable prices? We may never know. A Chipotle spokesperson fed me the same line the fast-casual giant gave every media outlet: “We made the decision to close all five Pizzeria Locale restaurants earlier this month and dissolve the business. Impacted employees were extended employment opportunities at Chipotle restaurants in the Denver area. That’s all the information that we have available to share.”
Although the Boulder location—which is still under the Frasca umbrella and rebranded itself as Pizzeria Alberico in February—now offers takeout and (pricier) versions of Pizzeria Locale staples such as the Diavola and Mais, I don’t think I’ll be driving there once or twice a month. Perhaps I’ll dust off my dough recipe card from that long-ago class and we’ll finally build the backyard pizza oven we’ve been talking about for years. But if anyone finds a Denver spot making great Neapolitan pie, with broccolini and Grana Padano, quickly and for around $10 a serving, let me know.