Durango pizzerias look to grow

By Chuck Slothower

Four Corners Business Journal

DURANGO, Colo. Is it possible that Durango doesn't have enough pizza?

Two ambitious restaurants hope so.

Tad and Vilma Brown are moving Fired Up Pizzeria from 1050 Main Ave. to 741 Main Ave., a much larger and more visible location.

Also, the owners of Homeslice Pizza, a 10-year-old institution, plan to expand their existing location at 441 College Dr. An addition will expand outdoor seating, and it will be enclosed to give the restaurant more tables to seat customers during Durango's chilly winters.

Homeslice owners Cory and Lynn Kitsch also purchased a lot at 2915 N. Main Ave. where they plan to eventually build a permanent restaurant. Until then, Homeslice will use a new food truck to serve pizza out of the location.

The food truck will be accompanied by covered outdoor seating, said Cory Kitsch.

Fired Up's move to south Main will more than triple the pizzeria's size, from 700 to 2,500 square feet. Seating will increase from 12 seats to at least 60, said Tad Brown.

"The reason we expanded is because our clientele demands it," he said. "Without the demand and business, we wouldn't have expanded."

Fired Up is adding payroll, going from six employees to about 20.

"We're hiring people," Brown said. "We're putting people to work. We're making things happen."

Fired Up uses Italian flour, fresh tomatoes and mozzarella and other high-quality ingredients, Brown said.


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Customers come for the quality.

"We do it right," he said. "I think people in Durango, they understand, They understand the quality of food."

Tourists that come to Durango also appreciate a higher-quality pie, he said. "People on vacation want something better than they can get at home."

Fired Up began in 2010 serving pizza at the Durango Farmers Market and other public events before the Browns opened the restaurant in February 2011. Fired Up sells traditional Italian-style pizzas that are light on cheese and toppings but use a Napolitano pizza crust. The 10- and 12-inch pizzas are intended to be eaten in a single serving. The pizza takes only a few minutes to cook in a wood-fired oven.

The new Fired Up also will have a full bar.

As for Homeslice, Kitsch said he will begin building the north Main location this week. The food truck and outdoor seating situation is a temporary solution until Kitsch has enough funding to build a permanent restaurant on north Main.

"I don't have the cash to do my addition and a huge restaurant right now," he said.

Homeslice's food truck has been a boon, and Kitsch said he would like to deploy it as food carts are in large cities such as Portland, Ore. and Los Angeles. City rules are too restrictive to do that now, he said.

"If that becomes a viable option for us, we can move the truck and vend out of it," he said.

Kitsch said he has been looking for a good location on north Main for about five years.

"There's a lot of potential customers on north Main we don't reach because we're kind of off the beaten path," he said. "We thought geographically it would be a good location for us."

The pizzerias are expanding as Durango restaurants and taverns see higher revenue, according to city sales tax data. Sales tax figures act as a barometer of retail sales.

Sales tax receipts for restaurants and taverns rose 9.3 percent during the first seven months of 2012, compared to a year earlier. Restaurants paid more than $1.4 million in sales tax through July, up from less than $1.3 million a year ago.

Karen Barger, co-owner of Seasons Grill, said business has been better except for a soft spot during wildfires early this summer. Overall, the restaurant business is improving, she said.

"We actually had some growth, so I'm calling it good," she said.