Telluride Daily Planet
After several attempts over the last few years, Brown Dog Pizza co-owner Jeff Smokevitch will finally bring his Detroit style pizza to Denver. Blue Pan Pizza is set to open June 8 in the West Highland neighborhood.
“I have so much confidence in my product and I want to show it to other people in a bigger market,” Smokevitch said. In 2011, Smokevitch, fellow Brown Dog co-owner Dan Lynch and current business partner Giles Flanagin were ready to open a second Brown Dog location in Denver when neighborhood opposition led to them failing to secure a liquor license. Since then Flanagin and Smokevitch have continued to pursue opportunities in Denver, with a few bumps along the way.
“Getting rejected so many times fueled the fire more and more,” Smokevitch said. “We know we have such a great product and we know people are going to love it; we just have to get it out there.”
Blue Pan is in a relatively small space on West 32nd Street, which necessitates a smaller menu than Brown Dog. The pizzas will stay the same, but many of the extra pasta and sandwich dishes on the Brown Dog menu won’t make the move to Blue Pan.
“From a pizza perspective we’ll be nearly identical in what we offer. It’s really going to be a pizza-driven business,” Flanagin said.
With the real estate market in Denver being so competitive, Flanagin said finding a place to open their restaurant was difficult. One night in October he checked Craigslist on a whim and saw the space in West Highland and emailed the landlord. Ten other prospective renters responded within the first two hours of its posting, but Flanagin was first.
Flanagin and Smokevitch went to kindergarten together outside Detroit, and several other people they’re working with come from the same area. One of their carpenters grew up across the street from Smokevitch and they met their web designer in middle school.
“All these people working for us we’ve known since we were little kids,” Smokevitch said. “We all went to middle and high school together then went our separate ways during college. We were really into skiing growing up, skied in Michigan, so we all separately ended up in Colorado.”
Smokevitch has garnered national and international acclaim for his unique Detroit-style pizzas, a regional specialty scarcely found outside Michigan. Smokevitch has twice won first place at the International Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas, in 2013 and 2014, and will be competing in the World Pizza Championships in Parma, Italy a few weeks before Blue Pan opens its doors in June.
But few people even know what Detroit-style pizza is (unless they’re from Detroit or Telluride), so Flanagin and Smokevitch hope to educate their new neighbors about the joys of their favorite style. Flanagin said people have been walking into their Denver space while renovations are going on just to ask what Detroit style is. Additionally, Blue Pan is hosting a series of pop-ups during May where customers can try their pizza. On June 20 Blue Pan will host a Kids Pizza Academy, a program first developed in Telluride, teaching children how to make pizza at the Highlands Street Fair. (That’s the Saturday of Bluegrass, and Smokevitch said he’s flying back to town that night to catch the shows.)
Smokevitch isn’t abandoning Telluride; he’s still a partner at Brown Dog and will continue to split his time between here and Denver as the new restaurant gets up and running.
Blue Pan will also feature a dedicated slice counter, where customers can quickly come in and out with their slice of choice, and will serve New York style and gluten free pizzas in addition to their signature Detroit style, with more additions likely to come.
Their new neighborhood in Denver already features several restaurants and a couple of competing pizzerias, but Smokevitch and Flanagin are confident they can succeed.
“We have that in Telluride too, with a pizza place two doors down and an Italian restaurant right next door. I’m used to that,” Smokevitch said.
“We’ll be using Smoke’s award-winning recipes, which are unique in their own, in addition we’ll be the first pizzeria in Denver that will offer authentic Detroit style pizza,” Flanagin added. “We believe those two components will be the main driver that will differentiate us from the competition.”