Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Colorado Pizza Journey--the Stuff of Dreams

So what’s the connection between the breathtakingly beautiful Colorado Rockies and two passionate pizza makers? Ask Richard “Daddio” Ames or Steve “Bodega Highway” Hitchcock and they might say it has something to do with freedom.

I soaked in stories and observations from these two entrepreneurs, naturalists and renaissance pizzaioli as we drove through majestic mountain passes and skirted the mighty, untamed Colorado River. I joined them on a 240-mile road trip—with a few pizzeria pit stops—from Denver to Grand Junction, Colorado. Ames, owner of Daddio’s Pizzeria in Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada, was hosted by pizza comrade Hitchcock, who founded Soda Creek Pizza in the picture postcard Colorado mountain resort port of Steamboat Springs in 1999.
Ames was returning to his native state after more than three decades in Canada for a reunion with former classmates and get-togethers with new pizzeria friends. He kindled those new online relationships through the idea-fanning discussion oven of PMQ.com’s Think Tank. Think Tank power plugs Daddio and Bodega Highway served as half the panel for The Western Pizza Summit held at the iconic, 100-year-old Wholly Stromboli restaurant in Fort Lupton, Colorado, on July 15. Wholly Stromboli co-founder Melissa Rickman and Master Pizza mastermind and U.S. Pizza Team superstar Mike LaMarca were the other pizza panel provocateurs. They informed and entertained a lively crowd in Wholly Stromboli’s flapper-evoking, wholly kick-butt Speakeasy with wide-ranging riffs wrapping up with the impact of Colorado’s legalized reefer rules on restaurants.

But back to Daddio and Bodega Highway—Think Tank nom de plumes for Ames and Hitchcock. Daddio runs a bustling pizzeria just 1,500 miles north of Denver in some rugged Canadian terrain where customers scale mini-mountain winter snowdrifts to earn their pizzas and wings at Daddio’s.  Daddio himself told me that his pizza delivery drivers routinely have to contend with moose and bears. The softspoken family man, hunter, fisherman and avid nature photographer is sharp as a tack when it comes to sharing innovative ideas about marketing and operating an independent pizzeria. “I’ve been successful in a lot of jobs,” he says without a hint of arrogance. “Even solved electric power generation challenges for the Canadian government as a consultant in remote locations, but my greatest love, besides my family, is being part of the pizza business.” The Colorado native routinely wears a t-shirt sporting the Daddio’s logo and the words “Think About Pizza.”
Ames wraps his delivery vehicles in low-light reflecting vinyl to combat the long northern nights and illuminate his "Think About Pizza” credo for quirky Canadian customers. “I actively employ high- and low-tech marketing solutions to drive my business, including a very active Facebook page, gift card program and even fun contests,” he says. “But in the end, it’s the quality of our ingredients and our pizzas that set us apart. As we say in all of our promotional materials, that’s ‘because taste matters.’”

Steve Bodega Highway Hitchcock took a winding professional road to arrive in his beloved Steamboat Springs, home of Soda Creek Pizza. Hitchcock founded the take-out-only pizzeria 15 years ago after he and his wife picked the 6,695-foot-elevation skier’s paradise to put down stakes. “My wife is from Colorado and I had lived in Illinois, Minnesota, Europe and California before stepping down from my national sales position with an outdoors product firm and moved to Colorado without a job,” he explains. “We planned to stay in a bunch of different towns when making our decision, but after spending a night in Steamboat, we both said, ‘This is it!’” Now, the community-minded businessman own a clothing boutique along with his sparkling pizza joint that offers familiar favorites along with specialty pizzas like fresh Sockeye Salmon and Elk-topped  pies.

Between his two businesses, Hitchcock works considerable hours. Still, he insists on making the time to support other Steamboat businesses. A skilled fly fisherman, he cherishes the natural wonders Colorado offers. “We raft, canoe, hike and mountain bike together as a family in one of the greatest spots on Earth to enjoy those activities,” Hitchcock says. “With Soda Creek Pizza, I have put together a team who I trust to create ‘Best in the Boat’ award-winning pizza with unique, fresh toppings and daily-made dough. We do this with solid point-of-service technology and automated budgeting software that allows me the freedom to take time off, recharge and appreciate my awe-inspiring surroundings. I truly believe people in the pizza industry have a duty to themselves and their families to get away from the store and reach out into their communities.”

Our PMQ crew parted ways with Daddio at the summit of the Grand Mesa in Western Colorado where jagged snow-lined peaks gave way to rolling flat-top vistas of green and blue. The separated Coloradoan spoke wistfully of his mountainous birthplace and the pizza community that sustained him on his journey home. “It’s remarkable that that you can travel all over this continent and share a passion and a way of life with the great, dedicated people who work in the pizza industry,” Daddio says as the slightest trace of a tear welled up in one eye. “I love Canada and Alberta because that is where my family and my livelihood reside. But the beauty of this Colorado wilderness is a memory you can never forget. It sets your spirit free.”

Yes, Daddio, our Colorado journey with you and the experiences we brought home with us to Mississippi are the images of dreams.                               

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