Owner Chris Lyons (left) puts a freshly tossed pizza dough on the table while pizza chef Isaac Claesson tops a pizza at Deli Italia Pizzeria & Market on Friday April 16. Husband and wife Chris and Lindsay Lyons own and run the pizza restaurant and market. (Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post)
Updated April 20 at 12:40 p.m. The Denver Post’s 2021 Denver Pizza Bracket poll ended April 19, with Deli Italia beating Cart-Driver by just two percentage points. Thanks for voting!
For first-time pizzeria owners Lindsay and Chris Lyons, the past two and a half years have been a wild ride, and a few more.
In 2018, and within a week of getting married, the couple took over Lakewoods Deli Italia with a plan to convert it into a full-fledged restaurant.
A little over a year later, they discovered they were pregnant. And not six months later, Deli Italia was forced to shut down indoor food due to the pandemic. When it was able to reopen, the Lyons were about to become the parents of Leopold, their first child.
“The deli was, in a way, our baby too,” said Lindsay. “We immediately fell in love with the potential of the place … (and thought) let’s just take it and work hard and make it our own.”
When you go
Deli Italia is 1990 Wadsworth Blvd. in Lakewood. It is open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed on Sundays). Call 303-248-7208 or visit deliitaliapizzeria.com for more information.
Now that the pandemic restrictions are lifted and customers continue to find the pizzeria – up close in the neighborhood, verbally from across town, even from chefs in other restaurants – the pizzeria is gaining traction.
“We don’t have a marketing budget, we don’t have anyone to manage our Instagram,” said Lindsay. “Having organic growth was honestly the best we could have asked for.”
The first time Lindsay and Chris were together in Colorado Springs, she learned that he was both a cook and a perfectionist.
Chris had a molecular catering set in his kitchen cupboard, referring to episodes of “Chef’s Table” in early conversations, and invariably making scratchy spices and sauces on nights when she just wanted a quick dinner.
“He always had this passion and perfectionism with his food,” said Lindsay. Although he was in the defense business at the time, Chris grew up in restaurants. Lindsay, for her part, worked in them for extra cash while teaching English in high school.
“We’ve definitely bonded with our love of good food. When we were planning our wedding, we thought we should do that, ”said Lindsay of opening a restaurant. And the plan quickly turned from pie-in-the-sky to reality.
RELATED: We Made It To The Finals Of The Denver Pizza Bracket: Vote For A Winner Now.
The Lyons moved to Denver and bought the three-decade-old Italian delicatessen from Robert Boffa, who had taken it over from founder Ricardo Pacini before him.
“It took us a lot to let people know that we made everything from scratch and changed the recipes,” said Lindsay. “We wanted it to be food that we give to our family and food that we stand behind.”
Most notable was the pizza dough that Chris would keep up late at night to perfect. He grew up between Germany and New York, while Lindsay is from Boston.
“When I grew up in Massachusetts, I definitely have opinions, and so do he,” she said, adding, “The dough was a love job and the sauce is from the ground up.”
Chris Lyons will be holding his 8 month old son Leopold with his wife Lindsay Lyons at Deli Italia Pizzeria & Market on Friday April 16. (Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post)
The resulting cake is an east coast hybrid with a crust that is thin and crispy. It’s more artisanal than late at night, but with enough bold and crease not to be too trendy.
“We have a lot of people from New Jersey and Philly who say it’s like a New Haven style,” added Lindsay, although she wouldn’t call it that. Her favorite cakes are the sausage & ricotta and the new Specktacular with white sauce, bacon, pepperoncini and spinach.
If you drop by any day (note they close early), you’ll find that Chris and his pizzaiolos dough for 9-inch ($ 9.99-13.99) and 14-inch cakes ($ 14.99 to $ 18.99) toss. Lindsay says they’ll sell as many submarines as pizzas in one day. But they also make salads, meatballs, and cannoli.
And when asked if they want to expand the business to a second location (maybe in Denver), Lindsay laughs – between her two newborns: “We’re just trying to sleep at night,” she said.
But they are planning a further step in memory of the pizza baker’s family: by the summer they will change the company’s name from Deli Italia to Leopold’s in honor of their 8-month-old child.
It’s a bold decision after winning, or almost winning, the title of Best Pizza in Denver under its current name. But the Lyons have a vision that brought them here.
“We just have to keep going and stay focused,” said Lindsay. “We feel like the very big outsider.”
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