Live Basil Pizza has nothing to hide. It’s all there in the open kitchen. A plethora of ingredients sit in bins ready to be placed on the dough, bordered by troughs of living basil plants, grown hydroponically. Not merely there for decoration or name inspiration, the basil leaves are regularly plucked for use on various pizzas as they come out of the flaming hot oven.
Live Basil Pizza opened March 25 at 7305 E. 35th Ave., a neighbor of one of its cousin-restaurants, Smashburger. By the end of May, Live Basil Pizza will have opened five locations in Colorado. To Consumer Concept Partners, who owns the chain as well as Smashburger, Tom’s Urban 24 and, breaking from the restaurant chain of ventures, the USA Pro Challenge bike race, the expansion comes as naturally as the basil plants growing in the restaurant. “It’s a very organic road for us,” says Park Hill resident Jason Dowd, corporate executive chef for Tom’s Urban and Live Basil Pizza. “We’re not pushing the envelope; we’re just opening it at our own pace.”
Whenever possible, ingredients are organic and locally sourced, varying with availability. Some pay homage to the location’s region such as bison meat and Hatch green chili. The staff behind the counter guide customers through options in sauce, type of cheese and topping, suggesting a limit of three toppings to avoid weighted-down crust and to enable each ingredient to be tasted. The pizza is then slid into the wide-mouthed gas oven with temperatures ranging from 585–650 degrees in different sections. Up to nine pizzas can be baked at one time, being manually rotated to balance baking the crust and melting the cheeses in just over two minutes. From the time an order is placed at one end of the counter, it’s about 5 minutes before it’s served at the other end.
Scott Schaden, general manager of the Stapleton location and cousin of Jason Dowd, feels the experience of seeing the pizza being prepared and baked creates interaction and a relationship between the customer and the staff. “Being able to customize as you’re walking down the line, seeing it go into the oven, you know that’s your pizza,” says Schaden. “We think it’s just a really good way to eat!”
With extensive backgrounds in fine dining and casual dining restaurants, Schaden and Dowd enjoy being able to work for, and with, Schaden’s older brother, Rick, founder and chairman of Consumer Concept Partners. “It’s amazing working with family,” says Scott. “We do our best to keep our relationships (while at work) business-forward and professional. I love getting to go to work every day and seeing my family and being able to create something and work toward a common goal with them. We are truly very lucky.”
Live Basil is riding the thin-crust, high-heat, high-speed pizza baking trend in Colorado that has roots in Naples, Italy, from before the time of Columbus. “We’re taking things rooted in Italian tradition but putting it to an American palette,” says Dowd. For example, the two explain, true Neapolitan pizza is eaten with a fork and knife because it’s a “wet” dough that’s hard to pick up. “Americans want to be able to pick up their pizza so we make the crust thinner and crispier,” explains Schaden. They prefer the traditional, slightly acidic San Marzano tomatoes for their sauce and Italian-style cheeses but offer various toppings and combinations creating what they call both “traditional and neo-Neapolitan” offerings.
The majority of Live Basil’s customers choose to dine in where they can also have wine and beer with their pizza and salad. But carryout is also available, timed just right to make sure the pizza doesn’t sit out too long. There is also a children’s menu.
Although Schaden has moved around with the company, opening locations, he will be staying put a while with the Stapleton location. “I’m definitely looking forward to working with a single group of people and being able to settle into a neighborhood again where I can get to know our regulars,” he says, noting how welcoming people have been, even before the restaurant opened. “We want to be the neighborhood pizza place doing our own thing,” says Schaden. “We want to be part of the neighborhood, not just juxtaposed into it.”