Colorado may be a hotbed for rapid expansion of restaurants on both the regional and national level — see Chipotle and Noodle & Co., for example — but Tony Pasquini wants no part of playing the role of franchiser. Anymore.
In fact, he’s going in reverse. He started selling off his Pasquini’s Pizza and franchising new locations more than a decade ago. Guess what? He didn’t like how they were being run. So in the last few months, he's gone ahead and bought out the ownership of two of the locations and ended a license agreement with another one.
Pasquini’s is now a family business again.
“You know, it sounded like a good idea,” Tony says. “I figured out it wasn’t for me. When you are a small franchiser, you don’t have the wherewithal to operate the stores on the quality level needed. The spirit just wasn’t there.”
In the process of this changeover, Tony also opened up a new location in Cherry Creek, which marks three locations he now owns and operates (Highland and Lone Tree, the others). All three serve Bonacquisti Vinny No Neck on tap. A fourth location, the original on South Broadway, is still owned by his sister.
So why the change of heart? Simple. Tony has core values he believes needs to be instilled in any business carrying his last name, a mantra that should start with the choice of cheese and continue to how employees interact with customers.
“We just got involved with people who didn't necessarily have the same values that made Pasquini’s successful,” Tony says. “Use cheaper cheese to make more money? That wasn’t the idea behind it. It was meant to be a community place.”
So now, after seven years of taking a role in an office, Tony is back to the long hours of running not one, but three pizzerias. After some reflection, the 45-year-old wouldn’t have it any other way. Pizza has been in his blood since shortly after his 10th birthday, after all.
At the time, Tony’s father ran an auto shop. He didn’t want to work with his dad.
“My dad’s best friend had a pizza place,” he says. “His son didn’t want to work for him, I didn’t want to work for my dad. When you are 10 and Italian you have to go to work.”
So he started in the pizza biz well before his teenage years. About a decade later, his parent’s divorce led to he and his mother getting a restaurant space on South Broadway.
He turned it into a pizza joint with just nine tables in 1984. “There was really not much to it,” he recalls of the original location that has been expanded and is now run by his sister. “With every dollar we made, we put it back in it. We didn’t have enough to buy supplies for more than a day.”
Well, the concept worked and by 1998 the business was growing. He licensed out a spot in Uptown in 1998, followed by a Louisville location in 2001 (since closed). Then came the crazy growth with the Highland (2007), Lone Tree (2009) and Tech Center (2010) locations popping up in succession.
That’s when Tony started noticing things weren’t up to snuff at all the locations. Since taking all of them back inhouse, Tony has instilled his work ethic and family values while upgrading the menu.
Things such as the cheeses and meats are now being sourced from top purveyors (locally when possible, such as Il Mondo Vecchio for the restaurant’s Italian meats, Bonacquisti Wine Co. for vino and Haystack Mountain for cheese, for example) and general quality control has become a top priority.
“Wherever we can, try to buy local,” Tony says. “Whatever we can do.”
The newest location, Cherry Creek, which just opened a month ago, also introduced a wood-fired oven for the first time and has 15 mostly Colorado beers on tap. Tony hopes to open an Uptown and East Colfax spot in the next year, too. But he's not going to relinquish control during this expansion burst.
“I learned that never put myself in a situation again,” he says. “My whole life I have been positive and building; franchising is more policing. You have to do this or else — that’s not what I’m about.”
Tony’s Pick: Vinny No Neck ($6 a glass) and Antipasto ($9.95)
This dish got an overhaul when Tony moved back in charge. It features a selection of meats — coppa, salami and pepperoni — from Denver’s awesome butcher Il Mondo Vecchio alongside fresh mozzarella, olives, roasted peppers and more. “It’s fabulous,” Tony says. “It’s the best stuff I’ve had. It’s perfect with Vinny. The Bonacquisti stuff is just a perfect food wine. Hes got that Italian flavor to it.”
Drink Vinny and eat pizza at these three locations:
Highland, 2400 West 32nd Ave., Denver
Lone Tree, 7431 Park Meadows Drive, Littleton
Cherry Creek, 240 Milwaukee St., Denver
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