Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group

Anne Keller & Jen Zeuner - Hot Tomato Pizza - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group - Episode 9

December 09, 2020 Anne Keller, Jen Zeuner Season 1 Episode 9
Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
Anne Keller & Jen Zeuner - Hot Tomato Pizza - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group - Episode 9
Show Notes Transcript

In our first remote podcast, Christi sits down "virtually" with Anne and Jen, the infamous owners of the Hot Tomato Pizza and Bestslope  Coffee Company in Fruita, Colorado.  They talk pizza, bikes, COVID-19, ice cream and more!

If all this makes you hungry, you can check out Hot Tomato at https://www.hottomatopizza.com/ and for Bestslope, go to https://bestslopecoffeeco.com/.

If you prefer to watch your podcasts, check out our YouTube page: https://youtu.be/-7hTqpwqkXc

Christi :

The Full Circle Podcast, compelling interviews and incredible tales from Colorado's Western slope, from the mountains to the desert, Christi Reece and her team hear from the movers, shakers, and characters of the Grand Valley and surrounding mountain towns that make the Western slope, the place we all love. You'll learn. You'll laugh. You'll love with the full circle. Hello everybody. And welcome back to the full circle podcast. I'm Christi Reece, and I'm really excited today to be joined by our incredible guests, J en Zeuner, and Anne Keller of t he Hot Tomato restaurant in Fruita. Hi ladies. H i, how's it going? How are you? Really good. Thanks. I 'm s orry. Thank you. I'm sorry. We can't be together in the same room, but a second best option. T here's we're talking l ife and we don't have something over our f ace. W e d on't h ave masks. So, u m, gosh, so many things to talk about, but let's just get started on a little background. I know you guys are coming up on 20 years i n Fruita. Is that right?

Anne:

Uh , 18 in Fruita and Hot Tomato.

Christi :

Okay. So pretty close to 20. Close enough. Right. Um, a love of bicycles is really what brought you here. Is that right? So tell me about your bicycle history.

Jen:

Um , so I started my bicycle history started when I was itty bitty. Um, I grew up racing BMX in New Jersey with my brothers, my dad at one point opened up a bicycle shop and he had a BMX track and my brothers and I had a fairly big age gap. And so when they were kind of getting out of the BMX scene, I was really starting to accelerate in the BMX scene. So I stayed with that , um, a lot longer after they had kind of like gone and started their families and things like that. Um, and I had the opportunity to just to travel around a lot , um, all over the country BMX racing and I was on the professional circuit doing that. And then natural progression as I got older was to find my way into mountain bikes. I mean, dabbled a little bit on the road. Um, but I really found a love for mountain biking in the, probably the mid eighties.

Christi :

Is there mountain biking in New Jersey?

Jen:

U h, no at that point I had moved, I had graduated high school and I was just kind of following the mountain b ike circuit all over the country. And I actually h ad landed in the Midwest for a w hile. U m, and I worked for a bicycle distributor there and it was actually GT bikes and I was, u h, involved with like kind of opening up the mountain biking, u h, gates, if you will, to the Midwest and did a lot of, u h, development with trail building back then and putting on events and such. And then I jumped onto the mountain bike pro circuit in the early nineties. And I did that up until the late nineties. U m, then I moved to Moab, that's where I met Anne. And, u m, she also had this fondness for mountain bikes and we just started riding together. So that's basically my b ack s tory o f, of bikes. Yeah.

Christi :

How about you Anne? You were a guide for awhile , right? You were a guide, a mountain bike guide?

Anne:

I did. Yeah. When I, when I lived in Moab prior to moving to Fruita , um, I don't have a big history with bikes. I have , uh, embarrassingly had training wheels on my bike until like a really late, because I love my mother dearly, but she was a little bit of a safety Sally. So yeah, I wish you know, that I grew up with like the BMX background and all that as a kid, but , um, Nope, not me. So I didn't get into mountain biking until I was about 19 and then made up for a lot of lost, like lost years, but really involved into it and dropping out of college and moving to Moab.

Christi :

So can you remember like the first time you mountain biked, either one of you, like really on a, on a mountain bike that was specifically made for trails and what, where was it and what kind of trail was it and how did it make you feel?

Jen:

I , I can , I can answer that. Uh , I was in St. Louis, Missouri, and I was on a GT Tequesta and it had a really funky paint job and it was, it had like this blue splatter and I was like all the rage at the time. And , uh , my first ride was at a place called greensfelder mountain bike park and it was actually an equestrian park and it was re all the trails were hiking trails. And I remember when we went out with our mountain bikes that we had just gotten from GT, I remember we had , um, toe clips, like the ones that you like slid your, you know, the little basket... And I remember coming from a BMX background and having those on and riding about, I don't know, five minutes time-wise and just ripping them off of my bike because I could not keep my feet in them. And, you know, the, the terrain, because it was a hiking trail, as we know now, you know , we have separate trails, but back then we didn't have that. So riding was really challenging, but I remember coming home after that, well , actually sitting in the parking lot after that and just feeling exhilarated, just like for everything. Like I was tired, it was hard. It was an experience hard . Think that trail was, I think it was a six mile loop. And I want to say it took us like four hours

Christi :

And you're wooped.

Anne:

Yeah. I think we went and ate like fast food or something dumb . And just like, that was it , what started this whole, like, huh..

Christi :

Do you remember yours, Anne, like , your first real mountain bike ride?

Anne:

I remember the first day I bought a real mountain bike. I lived in Northern California and I had scrounged up all my money for this hard tail, Giant, old mountain bike. And I think 1997. And I remember driving it home and getting out of the car and hopping on it. And I wrote about 15 feet down a gravel road and realized that I had about 300 goat heads in each tire. And that was the end of my very first ride of my very first real mountain bike. But I, yeah, I had a good one shortly after that. Yeah. I started mountain biking in Northern California in the Bay area,

Christi :

Which have great trails out there.

Anne:

Yeah. Terrible trails out there. They have an amazing, amazing cycling scene, phenomenal road. Riding people are really gung ho about cycling, but the trails are terrible. Um, because there's hardly any.

Christi :

So yeah . Yeah.

Anne:

You have to sit in the car in traffic for like an hour to go ride your bike .

Christi :

Yeah. So what, what bikes do you ride right now?

Jen:

Um, I'm on a Pivot Mach Six and it's a company down in Arizona and we're friends with them.

Anne:

And I'm on an Evil Reckoning, Evil is a Washington based company.

Christi :

Awesome. Yeah . And , uh, we just produced this video that you guys were part of it . We haven't released it yet, but you know, you're from the Grand Valley if and one of the lines there is you, y ou know, you're from the grand Valley if your bike is worth more than your car, is that true for you guys?

Anne:

Uh, you know, I think that that stereotype has largely changed. You know, now, now bikers have these like $60,000 sprinter van build outs . And so I think that was very much true when we both got into mountain biking, but I think, I think that's changed a little bit because now we actually have jobs. Right. We've all grown up a little bit.

Christi :

Well, let's talk about your job. Um, you guys moved to Fruita and were working at the bike shop. And how did you have an idea to start a restaurant and did either one of you have restaurant experience?

Anne:

No blissful ignorance, Christi,

Jen:

We were working at Over the Edge and we kept hearing people say, where do we go to , to eat in this town ? And at the time there really wasn't much, there was a Diorio's pizzeria, which was across the street from the bike shop. There was a little Mexican restaurant down the street, there was a Domino's and there was a coffee shop. And I think that was it. And every , and there was Munchies. Um , and then everything else was just like Burger King McDonald's right. And so we would hear it a lot at the bike shop where, you know, we just finished this ride, where can we go grab a beer? Where can we go? And at the time that End Zone was open for, was it the end of their run? Do you remember the end zone ?

Anne:

No .

Jen:

It's where the old it's where that Fiesta, Guadalajara in Fruita is. And it was, I remember when I came out here to interview with Troy for over the edge, we went to the end zone and they had these amazing burgers. And I remember we did a really big ride and then he took me there and I was like sold. Yeah. But they closed by the time I had taken a job at over the edge and moved here , um , they had closed and I remember being really sad about it because I was like, well, where are we going to eat so that, you know, of course, like escalated as we worked at the bike shop. And it wasn't just us asking, where do we go to eat? It was all the, all the visitors, the tourists that were coming through asking where do you go to eat? And so the Diorio's, was across the street. And for me growing up in Jersey, I just, I really missed a good pizza. And I would always go into Diorio's. And I would say , um, you know what , you should do, that pizza. And I grew up where I grew up, you know, there was a place like the hot tomato on every street corner, and everybody knew your name. Everybody knew whose kids you were . I worked at many of them, but I never made, I never made a pizza. And just cause I was a girl. So he just could just take the order and to serve it, wear a skirt. Yeah , exactly cute . Um, so I did that a lot. So when I just kind of had this idea, I knew that they were, you know, Diorio's had their thing and I kept going in and say, well, what are you, what are you? You know, what you should do and try to add all this stuff. And one day I walked in and I said, Hey, you know , you should do it . And they said, you know what you should do. And I was like, they're like, you should , you should just buy us. And that was kind of like the impetus to like get it going in my head.

Christi :

Mm . And so was there a point when you said to Anne , I know what we should do. We should open a pizza place.

Jen:

No, I don't think I ever said that. Um ,

Anne:

No. Well , you were , when you were going to buy, when that offer came up to buy the Diorio as equipment she did. And my response was like, Oh, that's nice have fun with that ,

Jen:

But we can have good pizza. Like, I don't think Anne at that early, early stage of our relationship, I don't think you knew what good pizza was. And that I grew up in that and that it was really important for me to have that. And I think it was, you know, I really enjoyed working at the bike shop and being in the customer service realm. So I think it was much more than just the pizza. It was the whole atmosphere and the whole feeling that you get that [inaudible] to me, like when I go home, I always go into a pizzeria because it's that feeling. And I really wanted to try to figure out a way to create that and have a place where other people could come and feel that and how to have an awesome place to hang out. And ,

Christi :

Um, it was the community meeting center, a place to drink beer and tell stories about your bike ride. Yeah .

Jen:

And that was, you know, at that time it was really, really, really missing in this, in this small community. I mean, and since then, it's definitely pushed, pushed forward a ton.

Christi :

I loved hearing that from you because I think I grew up in a small town and we had that sense, you know, I mean, we didn't have , um, a ton of restaurants, but they were all community meeting centers. Right. Like the whole town was your family. And I think those of us that think of New Jersey, you don't think of there being that sense of community, but that that's what those little pizza places were, you know, in the big towns, little micro communities.

Jen:

No , it doesn't matter if you're in a rural small town or even in a big city, because even when you're in a big city, those places are that place for that two mile radius. Right. That hometown feel important to me at that time.

Christi :

Yeah. So did you model , uh, your ideas of hot tomato or your recipes after some of those places? And did you, did you go back to New Jersey and say, I need some, some recipes from you friends?

Jen:

Well, actually I did a little bit better and I got my parents to come out and my mom is a really good cook. Um, I grew up in a small Italian community. And so you get bounced from, from like house to house and ask who was cooking, what, and that's where you decided where you were going to eat that night, like who had the best meal? Um , my mother, she still teases me about that. Um , but I was able to, I like to say talk them into coming here, both my mom and my dad when I was getting to a point of really seriously thinking about doing this. And my dad is a, he's a mechanic by trade so he can fix anything. So I was like, Oh, this will be great. Cause you know, the deal was, I was going to buy all the equipment. Um, and then I didn't know what I was going to do. I mean, there was no real plan. I was like, Hey , I got my dad calling to check on all this equipment to make sure it's worthwhile and work . The prices that they're asking for. And my mom will teach me how to do this stuff. And that's basically how it started. I mean, it's, it's still, we still use my mother's marinara recipe, our mixer that we make all of our dough every day , my mother's name is Charlotte and we named the mixter Charlotte, because if it wasn't for my mom, there wouldn't be me, which is kind of like the same point of dough . If we didn't have really good dough, they wouldn't have really good pizza. So we thought was appropriate to name our mixer Charlotte. And she is a Hobart mixer from the mid sixties. So she's older now that my mom's old, but it's really cool to have this vintage piece of equipment in our place. That's still back on more to this day. Um , still makes all of our dough every single day. So what do you feel like your contributions were in that early part? Like, are you the, are you the business mind? Were you the design person? Were you the idea person on what's it going to look like? What were you focusing on at that time?

Anne:

At first, for the very first few months, I stayed at the bike shop because I was the paycheck person. So that was my role. Um, yeah. You know, I like to think that, you know, my strengths that I brought to the table were the brand design and the vision around that and the graphics, I have a background in arts . And so that was largely my contribution over the years and the , the two of us together, I think, you know, we each, could you just, as two individuals, you know, you have the opportunity to kind of contribute each of your strengths. And so Jen, with her family background and with the field that she wanted to create largely brought that to the table. And I think that, you know, I was always tasked with the visual representation of that,

Jen:

Which has done so well. I mean, it's really iconic. And how did you come up with the name?

Anne:

Well, we dug, we dug for a really long time. We had the worst names . Yeah. You know, like , I feel like I'm not entirely certain if this is correct, but I feel like there was something like fat Labrador cafe at one point, it wasn't really like, we were digging hard because we just, you know, when you're trying to force something and you just lose inspiration and you go past that point of coming up with anything good. And then you're just like scraping the dredges where you're like, these are all terrible. So we're at that stage, we were definitely

Jen:

That stage . And we were actually out on a hike and devil's Canyon with our dogs. And I was like, I have a name. And I was like, what? And I'm like, I have a name for the restaurant. Just like, okay, what? And I said, hot tomato. And I remember he just like stopped in your tracks. And you're like, where did you come up with that? I was like, well, actually, so back in Jersey, again, growing up the Catholic Italian, small community, every, every man would call us young women, hot tomatoes,

Anne:

Vaguely sexist. And kind of endearing.

Jen:

Hey hot tomato. Bring me my glass of whiskey, whatever uncle Joe. Um, and so originally I was holding out on the name because I really wanted to open a bike shop and I wanted it to be called Hot Tomato Cyclery. So that was where my passion truly lied, but that wasn't going to happen because at the time there was no way I was going to open up a bike shop in Fruita because there was one here that was doing really well. And I had that connection there. So then we weren't doing that. So that's where the name came from.

Christi :

So, so you went pizza

Jen:

Full in. Because why not?

Christi :

Yeah. Well , what else do you think makes your pizza different and talk about your Stromboli too, because wow . That's my absolute favorite thing that makes me drool. I love the little crusty, cheesy, you know, kind of fried crispy parts around the edges. That's just heaven.

Jen:

I think on one hand, what makes our, our actual product different is we, you know, our product wasn't that good back in the day? I mean, it was okay except for my mother's marinara, that's always been good.

Christi :

You had a lot of trial and error. Yeah .

Jen:

Like , you know, it was good. It was okay. But then I'd go home and I'd be like, nah, that's , it needs to be better. And I get, I'm gonna back off here and I'm going to let Anne take all the credit for this because, and as a , is a data nerd and she just dug really, really deep into how do we make this better? Um, and how do we, how do we figure out what we really want? We went to some pizza shows and we met a lot of people within the pizza.

Anne:

Yeah. There's a pizza at a trade show in Las Vegas. That's a lot of people's dreams to go to that kind of amazing. Yeah. You don't have to travel to go eat pizza everywhere. That's a terrible, yeah .

Jen:

Gotcha. That's our next one . Yeah .

Anne:

There's actually, there's quite a few resources for baking and pizza making. There's a, there's a dedicated pizza making online forum of course, because there's forums for everything. And so you can, you know, if you did, you can definitely find recipe tips. And we just went through a lot of trial and error over a number of years when we decided we wanted to improve the dough . It was, it was a lot of testing, a lot of making batches because we had to make, you have to commit you the dough, all that you end up with is 80 pounds in weight. So you use accolade . Yeah. It's like the Jack giant thing that you tip out of the mixer. And so you're pretty committed to testing in order to do these trials. So it just slowly got better over the years. The more little like tweaks have you do, it would just improve. And then I think

Jen:

It's minor things, you know, making works on nuance for sure. And then I think the other thing we did is once we started to go to the pizza, like we got invited to go to the pizza show. Cause we didn't even know there was like, we already used to go onto the bike train show, pizza pizza show, usually Las Vegas, of course. But we started to, you know, become friends with people in the industry and it , you know, it's interesting because we were both very much in the bike industry and it's kind of the same thing where you just find your people and they help you along the way. And I remember being pretty intimidated at the first, like the first day of the pizza show, because there's just all these men, all these, well , I'm going to , I'm going to say all these Guidos because that's what we call everybody back home. Right? Like all of these Italian guys dressed to the nines were there [inaudible] women that are walking with them and talking in these like really harsh, like East coast accents or a lot of people from Italy where they're like, so a lot of Italians would come in for this thing. Um, but we really started to learn like, well, what, you know, what, what cheese do you use or what, what tomatoes do you use and how do you do this and how , and we really started, like, I think making the commitment to be like, okay, we want to really call ourselves an East coast style pizzeria. We got to like put our money where our mouth is and we got to like buy the better cheeses and we got to buy the better tomatoes. And we got to really work on our dome and get it, get it where it needs to be. And so we've definitely upped the game on our ingredients at that like about 10 years ago where we got, you know, instead of getting the less expensive olive oils, like we went to the really expensive olive oil because we put olive oil in that dough , same thing with our flour, like really finding the right flour mix that they used at these pizzerias that are so iconic around the world. So, and the same thing with cheese, we use a company in Wisconsin, called Grande, and every super solid pizzeria. That's the cheese that you use. So it was really fun to start learning that because, you know, back to the original question, like how did we come up with this idea to do this? We really had no idea. And we, it was just trial and error. And I remember like some of the items we had, we thought were pretty good at the time. And then you start tasting things and you're like, wow, this can of tomatoes versus that can of tomatoes, it really does make a difference. So that was really fun for, I think both of us and those taking those steps to get us where we are, where we are right now.

Christi :

And so, so you're developing your product, but at the same time you are having to learn how to be business owners. Oh yeah. There's that I , it's a challenge. And you're managing employees and hiring maybe firing and finances and all of that who took the lead on that ? Or was it a joint effort?

Anne:

I t was, you know, Jen took more of the paperwork, QuickBooks b ookkeeping behind the scenes. I would say we both dealt with employees and growing the organizational structure around the business.

Jen:

And I , I think too, we both had a hand in the culture of what sure, what the hot tomato, you know, we're, I know everybody thinks we're the same person and they get us confused all the time or we're actually very, very, very different. Um, and so it's been interesting to see how two individuals can really pull that level of a functioning, fun culture together, be able to put that into our workplace.

Christi :

And one of the things that you're really known for is this great workplace culture, not just culture on the front side of the dining room, but in the back. And how do you foster that? What do you think are the main elements that are important to you that make your culture so great and such a great place to work? Yeah .

Anne:

Um, I believe that you can't culture comes from the top down. And so what I love about that is it produces a sense of humility in that we have to act in the way that we want our staff to act. And in a lot of ways that really keeps you in check when you own a business. And not saying that we would go 180 off the rails, you know, left to our own devices, but you , uh, you know, you , you do develop a sense of humility. You learn to apologize. You know, you learn to be honest about things and because you can't expect anyone in your team to give that same level, if you're not going to bring it yourself. And I think that that's one of the things and that's been, I mean, I'll be honest. Like we, haven't always been great at that. Like there's moments where we struggle and we definitely were worse at that at the beginning. And we've learned, and, and I'm, you know, we're to the point where like, I'm, I'm proud of our growth in that, but it has not always been easy. It , it is a challenge to step down off the leadership pedestal, you know,

Jen:

So that it's very intentional. Yeah . I mean, it's like we don't show up at a meeting, like, okay, we're going to have this meeting. Like we work around it and we role play and you know, whether it's going to be a tough conversation or an easy conversation, we make sure that we're really, we're really ready for that. Um, and for all the things that, all the various scenarios that may come our way, because I mean , we have 25 employees. There's a lot of different ways that people think when you bring 25 people into ,

Anne:

I think that, you know, there's this traditional approach to leadership that thankfully has been changing over the years. That is very, you know, you've gotta be strong and you've got to be decisive. And, and really what we need is like, we all just need to read like Brenet Brown books and then own businesses because it's , um, you know, it's, it's been amazing what we've been able to, to build around that.

Christi :

it is and how nice that you have each other to bounce things off of. I m ean, not everybody in a relationship can run a business together. Right. But you guys, h ow.

Anne:

I'm tentative about encouraging other people to do that? It comes with challenges.

Christi :

It's a special thing. I mean, you guys do it better than most, but I I'm sure it comes with its challenges. Yes. Um, so let's talk a little bit about , uh, Life of Pie because I absolutely loved that movie. And what did it do for you and your business? Wow. It's been a cool ride for sure. I mean, you guys were well known before that locally, but, and you were doing some articles and things are getting some national attention, but that really yeah . Yeah. For sure. Absolutely. Yeah . In Patagonia. Yeah. I think , um ,

Jen:

I think there's been, I mean, there's been so many positive things that have come from that. I think for me, probably the thing that I am always reminded of is we still get eat . Like they just rerun it for Thanksgiving, like on next . So all of a sudden there's like, Oh , this whole thread of people again, which is cool. One of the things that I always come back to your memory when we were having a meeting, you weren't there without the hot tomato. And this guy walks in and he, he had come in to use the restroom. We were on the side patio and it was just before COVID and , um , we were having a meeting,

Anne:

Restrooms are open.

Jen:

And he saw me sitting there, he did like did , uh , a double-take and he was on his way past me. And then when he came back, he stopped and he said, Hey , um, my daughter and I saw your movie, is it okay if she comes and says hi? And I was like, yeah, absolutely. And I was like in the corner of the , one of the little bench, the little bench seats. So I couldn't get off unless young woman, young girl, like 12 came up and I remember she was so,

Anne:

And she was just like, hi, so-and-so. And I just really loved your movie. And in that moment, like, it had been probably, you know, a year after they had shot, like been a big production, if you will. And that to me really still stands out like that, that movie, like this little girl wanted to come here and ride her bike with her dad because she saw it , man . It's just like, wow. And then there's been so many other amazing emails that have come through about people with various struggles and just life stuff that they have reached out to us. And that's, that's been really, for me personally, that's been really cool.

Christi :

What message are you proudest of in that movie?

Anne:

Um, something that we had to kind of wrap our heads around is that, you know, it's , it's largely coincided with the push within the outdoor industry for diversity equity and inclusion. And for us being two gay women, that's been a lot of the positive feedback that we've had from that. And that's not something that you really think about on a day-to-day basis. You know, we, we don't, we didn't go into the business to represent gay people in a business realm. Right. But what you realize, and the movie is definitely brought this to light for us is that your everyday actions are your representation. And so for us getting that positive feedback, like we kind of had to step back and think about the importance of that. And that's been pretty rewarding because that's been, I'd say the overarching narrative of the comment of the comments that we've received from it is, is in regards to our place, both in the outdoor industry and also in the business realm as gay women. And so that's been, I think the biggest thing that's kind of struck me that's come from the movie is that that was impactful for people. And to that, we're proud of that . That that's been something that was unanticipated because it's not something we largely think about much on a day-to-day basis,

Christi :

You guys aren't thinking about the fact that you're gay all the time.

Anne:

I know, I know. Yeah, no , it's true. You know, just living my life. Um, yeah .

Christi :

Yeah. I really enjoyed watching it again this week. Um , in fact, I watched the couple of times, and I loved reading the comments on YouTube. Like you really did inspire a lot of people and inspire people to come to grand junction and Fruita and ride our trails, and eat your pizza. So I'm sure you brought people here through the movie.

Jen:

say that I just was looking through some of those comments just when they replayed it at Thanksgiving, like a bunch of stickers showing up in my social media. And I was like, wow,

Christi :

It's awesome. It really is . What was it like filming that? I mean, those , uh, scenes of you guys riding are phenomenal. Did you, was it an all day shoot? Did you have to do it over and over again? What was it like to shoot?

Anne:

It was multiple days. They came out in the S in the fall of , What was it? 2017, No, 1818. Thank you. Fall of 2018. 17, sorry, 17 . Oh my gosh. Thanks. COVID

Jen:

So on 17 we had gone up, it was just going to be short . And so we know we're friends with the filmmakers , um, Ben and Travis. Um , and we became friends with them through coming in to eat pizza, which is kind of funny. Um, and we had no idea that that's what they did until we were in Telluride for mountain film one year. And they had a movie in a movie called red gold, and it's all about , um, the pebble mine in Alaska. Yeah. And so it was really moving, but we had no idea that that's what they did. And we were like, that's been interesting. So that was really cool that we knew them as, you know, we weren't super tight with them, but we, you know, they were our customers, we became friends. So then we see them having this really great moment with this other movie. And then over the years they've done a lot of amazing things. And then they reached out to us about this film and we were like, yeah, whatever, like, sure. We didn't really think much of it. We were just like, okay, well tell us when , because we need to make pizzas,

Christi :

Bring your video camera.

Jen:

And so they came on by where their video equipment. And I remember we actually camped up in the booklet and we brought Stromboli and we did stumble over the fire and we shot really early in the morning. And so have you watched the movie? There's some parts that it's really really green. That was the spring. That was the spring. And then it transitions to the ground and it's not just like the fault , so green . So then they really shot for like two days in the spring. And then the fall, they came back and they actually had a full-on crew of people with them. It was probably like the two of them and three other people, two or three other guys. Um, and I think honestly for us, it was, I don't know, it was kind of like business as usual. We just, because we knew him at that point, like we had become friends with them. So it was pretty, I don't think either one of us felt weird or nervous or anything. I think when they were in the restaurant, it may have made some of the staff feel a little like, Oh my gosh, what's going on? Um, but they quickly ,

Christi :

The employees that were in the movie were so great. I mean, they were fantastic, fantastic.

Anne:

This actually with Matt gets me every time , every time .

Jen:

And , and they're still with us, you know, Matt and Sarah and Devin, they're still, they're still on our team. And it's just, I think for me watching that movie and thinking about those kids and hearing what they say, if that's all that I personally ever get out of the hot tomato,

Christi :

My gosh, I mean every how gratifying , it's really gratifying when your customers and clients are happy, but when your employees are happy, that's really important.

Jen:

And the fact that they're still with us now through like this challenging year and like I'm having coffee with Matt tomorrow morning because we have a coffee date every few weeks and just check in with each other. And I think that's so important to have that with you . So yeah , just , you know , not it's definitely important all the time, but I think it's especially important now.

Christi :

Yeah. Well, let's talk about this challenging year because restaurants have suffered exponentially and you all have had to close your dining room, but thankfully the product that you produce , pizza and salad and Stromboli is takeaway friendly, but so, so what's it been like for you this year?

Anne:

Um, you know, stressful March, April, may, we're like one giant month all combined together. And you know, we did, we did the bulk of our work in the spring time. You know, we've pivoted our system to , to go only we've stayed to go only. We haven't reopened. We're still to go. So at this point, well , there's still the stresses of trying to figure out the schedule because it's like a giant game of whack-a-mole right now who's had contact and like who's had secondary contact and what this all means, and he was positive. And I mean, it's that element of stressful, but the actual operations of the business, thankfully we dealt with that in the spring and then we've stayed with the same model, but it was, it was a lot of meetings with our leadership team. It was a lot of meetings with staff. It was a lot of just, you know, the information that we were getting was changing every five minutes constantly like on the CDC website and on Mesa county's website. And that , um, yeah, it was, it was stressful. Um, I'm really, really thankful that we do pizza. I really have my heart goes out to restaurants that have done food. That's not necessarily something that people consider takeout friendly. And I'm amazed At the creativity that I've seen from the restaurant industry to compensate now . But for us, our takeout was already about 3% of our business. And so while it did take quite a bit of work to go to a hundred percent of our business, it wasn't that far fetched for us.

Christi :

Right. Good point. Um, you know , uh, when my team and I were talking about who do we want to interview , uh , for December, we thought about, we wanted to do somebody in the restaurant industry to highlight , um, how people can help and what people can do. I mean, obviously eat out and get takeaways as much as you can with the local restaurants. But I know you all are friends with a ton of the restaurant owners in town. What else can we do besides just eat, beat out my gift cards? And yeah,

Jen:

But I think, I think also just be, really being really mindful of what the other people on the other side of the counter are dealing with. And that's something that we talk about a lot with our team, with our guests. Like we never know what someone's dealing with when they, when they come to the, to the window, to the counter. I mean , you know, you just never know what's going on in their day to day. And I think, I think for us as a community to be really mindful of, of how much stress that, that, that the people, the employees that are taking care of you, so you can get your pizza or your burger or your sushi or your coffee, whatever it is. They're dealing with a lot of people that may not be in their on their best behavior and have the best energy right now. And that's okay. But just to be mindful that on the other side of that, they feel that too, and I've always struggled with that being in customer service. I want people to treat our team just like they would treat me or they would treat him and no differently because we're all one, like we're a team, we're all

Christi :

Just not there to be abused.

Jen:

Yeah. And I , and I agree with you and I feel my heart goes out to all the other restaurants to meet in a lot of ways. We have it pretty easy because we've, this is part of our model and it's pizza. That's a part of every pizzerias model. We're limited on what we can do just because, and every restaurant is , um, we're limited on how many people we can have in how many people we can have on the line, how many orders we can take now, you know, normally they're in our kitchen. My God, you've seen it when it's, when it's cranking. And there's like 20 people in the kitchen. Now there's five. So we still have that volume. And honestly, if , when we look at our numbers and we look at pizza for pizza, our numbers have not changed. It's the other pieces that have dropped, right? The alcohol, the merch, the salads, the , all the other things that go with it, that when people are hanging out in the diner and that they get to enjoy. Um , so I don't think that people understand that when they're in these curbside , um, models, people don't understand what's still going on in the kitchen, you know? And I've, I feel really bad for that. Like, you , you can't expect food in 30 minutes. Like we appreciate the orders and the support, but we, we, I think we all, as a community need to like calm down for the learners . Yeah.

Anne:

Graciousness, patience . Yeah. Because not only are we struggling with lack of revenue coming in for restaurants, but now, you know, now that cases are growing up in the Valley, like restaurants are very much dealing with staff shortages and you know , that can be pretty detrimental to your operations.

Christi :

Yeah. Wow. So many challenges. So I want to talk a little bit about what drew you to Colorado. Um, obviously you, you, you ended up there because of the trails, but what really keeps you there what does Fruita mean to you

Anne:

At the , when we first moved through that, we thought we'd be there for like five years. I think ,

Jen:

Uh , it was like three years maybe .

Anne:

And then we're going to move to a mountain town. We're going to move to Durango or Eagle or one of these places. And then we, you know , realized that we couldn't afford to move to Durango or Eagle or one of these places. And then we opened a business as , so we stayed in Frida , but what I love now, we, we were just at best slope, like a week ago, meeting up, meeting up with some folks for coffee. And I loved it that we could walk out our doors and we could walk to the coffee shop and we could sit down at a table with other people would walk to the coffee shop and watching just the community vibe in the town that's been created was, was really cool. And what I realized is like, Fruita has become this town that people want to move to. And that you're like, of course, like, of course people want to move to Fruita. It's awesome. We have a brewery, you know , we've got like this awesome little copper club taproom, we've got the coffee shop. Like we've got walkability , we've got access to recreation. And so on a lot of ways, this place that we moved to that we just thought was this temporary stopover has become pretty awesome. And it's always been awesome, but it's just gotten more awesome.

Christi :

Well, and you have great leadership in Fruita.

Anne:

Yes, yes. Yeah. Oh my God. 100 percent. Yes. I think not only do we have

Jen:

Great leadership, but we have great business owners in Fruita. And I think we all work together to try to figure out how we're not going to find just the benefit for ourselves, but how we're going to find the benefit for the entire community and everybody that comes here and visits with us.

Christi :

So what's next. I mean , uh, obviously when restrictions get lifted and you have in-person seating again, we were all celebrating. You guys are going to be so crazy busy for so long. We're just going to want to spend so much time there. And , uh, including me, I'll be there. What outside of , uh, getting through COVID what's next for you ladies and what's next for the hot tomato?

Jen:

Um, I think right now , um, you know , we're working with Tom at coffee about doing various things. Um, he has some ideas that he wants to move forward. Actually, we were Tom and I right before COVID went to Penn state and took the ice cream class, Which was amazing ice cream. Uh , so that was our next business was going to be Ice cream. Um , and then COVID happened. So that's been put on hold and I think honestly for us right now, we're just gonna, we're just going to see how that whole thing plays out. And, you know, I think like everybody, we don't really know what the next things are going to be for our business. It's just right now, how do we keep everybody employed, keep our food quality where it is, and not have to , um, drop that quality because of food costs. And that's another thing in the restaurant industry right now, food costs are crazy and, you know, you can't just change it every day. So we're trying to be really mindful of that. But I think, I think what's next for us is just to really lock away from this with having an incredibly strong leadership team that can continue to move the needle forward, you know, without us being in every day, like we're definitely in a position right now where we're going to be moving into more of an advisory role. Um, and you're actually in the process of selling the hot tomato to one of our employees.

Christi :

So is that, that public knowledge now?

Anne:

It is now I guess!

Christi :

As soon as we publish this podcast! Yes. Jen had told me a little bit previously, but just a little.

:

I felt like Jen was just being a little cagey about that

Jen:

So back to reason, I was looking at all the comments on the movie that really made me really like, wow, we have to let people know, you know, nothing's, it's just, we're going to be on the other side, we're going to be taking a paycheck from the hot tomato, has an employee versus an owner. Um, but the beautiful thing I think is that we're always going to be in the founders and our footprint is always going to be on this community. And , and that's really important. So I think the next piece for us is what, what is our , like how, how do we like help this legacy if you will move forward? So it's here for the next however many years. So everybody's kid can get some hot sun and pizza will all the fields ,

Christi :

Uh , love it. And you know, you, you have created a , uh , a legacy with this business, and I know that with what you've begun and , and with you advising in the future, it will continue and really excited to see you guys get to do some different things. Thanks. Thanks. Yeah. Well , uh, anything else you want to share before we wrap up? It's getting a little dark there . I've got all these bright lights in my office and it's just continuing to get a little dark back there, but I guess it's time to put our pajamas on right. Finish your whiskey that's way gone. Well, thank you so much for , um, allowing me to ask you some questions today and thanks so much for bringing hot tomato pizza and Stromboli to the grand Valley. Right?

Jen:

We appreciate you!

Christi :

You. Okay . Happy holidays to you. All right . Thanks to all of our listeners and watchers for joining us for the Full Circle Podcast. And , uh, we don't have our next guest lined up yet. We've got some people that we've got some invitations out to . So I can't even say who's next, but we appreciate you ladies at the hot tomato. And we'll talk again soon. Thanks for listening. This is Christi Reece signing out from the full circle podcast.