Ryan Elmore began his restaurant career in 1999, when he graduated from culinary school. He moved to Las Vegas for the opening of the Aladdin, the Palms and several other casino restaurants in Vegas and California. But working 100 hour weeks for other people without really getting anywhere prompted Ryan and his wife to move back to Colorado and start their own restaurants.
Ryan demonstrates his pizza-tossing skills.
Three years after opening his first business, a coffee shop in Frederick, CO, Ryan decided it was time to expand. As the story goes, he and his wife were walking out of a LA-Z-Boy furniture store on Wadsworth Parkway, in Westminster, CO, and saw a Rosati’s, which his wife had grown up on in Chicago. They would order Rosati’s every time they went back to visit her family. The pizza from the Wadsworth store was just as they remembered. Before he knew it, they were driving to Rosati’s three times a week to get pizza. The idea of driving 40 minutes for pizza seemed foolish, so Ryan decided to buy into the franchise and open his own store on Zuni Street. Shortly thereafter, Ryan bought the Rosati’s on Wadsworth.
The Rosati’s story began in the early 1900s with an Italian immigrant coming to America, hoping to open an authentic Italian restaurant in Chicago. This dream was realized on Chicago’s Taylor Street. Now in its fourth generation of family ownership, Rosati’s restaurants can be found in eleven states. No matter where the restaurant is located, they all use the same sausage that is shipped directly from Chicago, where it is made using the family recipe. The dough recipe is also tightly controlled by the family, but there is a little leeway, because Ryan had to adapt the recipe for Colorado’s high altitude.
Ryan had to change the dough recipe because he is the only Rosati’s franchisee in Colorado. He hopes to be on the ground floor of a major expansion in the Denver Metro area. That is why Ryan chose the brand, seeing their popularity in Arizona and Las Vegas. “If you were to go to Phoenix, there’s 45 Rosati’s all over the place.” Ryan is certain that people searching for a good pizza will find Rosati’s.
"I like it when people call up and say it's the best pizza [...] or, if it's a family on a budget who says, 'We know we're going to spend more, but we don't want anything else.'"
The Rosati’s on Zuni Street does mostly carryout and delivery business, but there are a few bar-height tables and barstools to accommodate dine-in customers. Since most of their business is through phone-in orders, Ryan has made an interesting observation about customer attitudes. Customers are not as accountable for their actions over the phone as they are in person. One incident that sticks out in Ryan’s mind occurred in 2008, shortly after opening. “When we first opened, I’ll never forget it; a girl was handling a customer, we had taken him a Pepsi instead of a Diet Pepsi, and he had her in tears, screaming and cussing at her on the phone.” In this situation, Ryan did what any customer-focused company would do; he spoke with the customer himself, calmed him down and offered to personally drive out to the customer’s house with the correct beverage.
Customer complaints are an unavoidable part of any business, but for every customer that complains, there are equal or greater numbers that rave about Rosati’s. That is what Ryan likes most about the business. “I like it when people call up and say it’s the best pizza […] Or if it’s a family on a budget who says, ‘We know we’re going to spend more, but we don’t want anything else.’”
Another challenge faced by Ryan, and any other restaurant owner, is employees.
The employee demographic of Rosati’s is 17 to 23 year olds that are working to pay tuition or earn some spending money. The most difficult thing to instill in his employees is the same passion and devotion to the customers and the business that Ryan has. Ryan hopes the employees that work alongside him for a period of time will take on some of his personality traits, such as being laid back and understanding of customer concerns, rather than blowing someone off if they are rude. “You have to trust […] that they’re going to represent you in a way you hope they would,” Ryan says when asked what he does to prevent staff and customer interaction problems. He knows that they are young and still learning, but he trusts that his employees will handle most situations appropriately. Plus, Ryan hopes his employees understand that if they anger a customer, either a manager or he himself will hear about it.
Whether dealing with angry customers or dispassionate employees, Ryan advises new restaurant owners that, “You can’t be the intense person.” In the heat of the kitchen, tempers can flare, and it takes a cool head to prevail. In his younger days, Ryan has been in some shouting matches with other managers and kitchen workers. On one occasion, an executive chef even threatened to stab him. "He was like, 'I'm going to jump through there and stab you in the throat...'" Ryan recalls. Now, being in charge of his own restaurants, Ryan knows that you have to be very understanding of other people and not blow your lid, even though the customer or employee might not have the same control over themselves.
For people looking to get into the pizza business, Ryan suggests being ready to work and knowing what kind of work you are getting into. “If you’re an accountant who’s never been in the kitchen […] go and work somewhere else first.” Even if it’s for a few weeks without pay, most restaurant owners will jump at the opportunity to have an unpaid apprentice shadow them for a couple of weeks, and the experience you gained will take you a long way when opening and managing your own restaurant.
Also, you have to be able to have fun and enjoy the work. He suggests that you do not go into the pizza industry “if you don’t enjoy making dough or having fun with food.” When demonstrating how to toss dough in the air and speaking of his enjoyment of making food, it is clear that Ryan has a deep passion for what he does and is in the right industry.