Deli Italia is the underdog in Denver best pizza competition — The Know

For first-time pizzeria owners Lindsay and Chris Lyons, the last two and a half years have been a wild ride, and then some.

In 2018 and within a week of getting married, the couple took over Lakewood’s Deli Italia with the plan to turn it into a full restaurant.

Just over a year later, they found out they were pregnant. And not six months after that, Deli Italia was forced to close due to the pandemic. By the time it could reopen, the Lyons were about to become parents to Leopold, their first child.

“The deli was our baby, too, in a way,” Lindsay said. “We fell in love with the potential of the place right away… (and thought), let’s just take it and work hard and make it our own.”

If you go

Deli Italia is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday (closed Sundays). Call 303-248-7208 or go to deliitaliapizzeria.com for more information.

Now, as pandemic restrictions lift and customers continue to find the pizzeria — from nearby in the neighborhood, from across town by word of mouth, even from chefs at other restaurants — the pizzeria is starting to gain momentum.

“We don’t have a marketing budget, we don’t have somebody managing our Instagram,” Lindsay said. “To have organic growth has been honestly, I think, the best thing we could have asked for.”

Back when Lindsay and Chris first started dating in Colorado Springs, she learned that he was both a cook and a perfectionist.

Chris kept a molecular gastronomy kit in his kitchen cupboard, he referenced episodes of “Chef’s Table” in early conversation and on nights when she’d just want something quick to eat for dinner, he’d inevitably end up making scratch seasonings and sauces.

“He had always had that passion and perfectionism with his food,” Lindsay said. Even though he was working in defense contracting at the time, Chris grew up in restaurants. For her part, Lindsay worked in them to make extra cash while teaching high school English.

“We definitely connected on our love of good food. As we were planning our wedding, we thought, we should do this,” Lindsay said of opening a restaurant. And the plan quickly turned from pie-in-the-sky to reality.

RELATED: We’ve made it to the finals of the Denver pizza bracket: Vote now for a winner.

The Lyons moved up to Denver and bought the three-decade-old Italian deli from Robert Boffa, who had taken it over from founder Ricardo Pacini before him.

“It took a lot for us to let people know that we were making everything from scratch and had changed the recipes,” Lindsay said. “We wanted it to be food we’d feed our family and food we’d stand behind.”

Most notable was the pizza dough that Chris would stay up late nights perfecting. He grew up partially in New York, while Lindsay is from Boston.

“Growing up in Massachusetts, I definitely have opinions, and he does too,” she said, adding, “The dough has been a labor of love, and the sauce is from scratch.”

The resulting pie is an East Coast hybrid, with crust that’s thin and crispy. It’s more artisan than late-night, but with enough grease and fold so as not to be too trendy.

“We have a lot of people from New Jersey and Philly that say it’s like a New Haven style, Lindsay added, though she wouldn’t quite call it that. Her favorite pies are the Sausage & Ricotta, and the new Specktacular with a white sauce base, speck, pepperoncini and spinach.

When you stop by any day (notice they close early), you’ll find Chris and his pizzaiolos tossing dough for 9-inch ($9.99-$13.99) and 14-inch pies ($14.99-$18.99). Lindsay says they’ll sell as many subs in a day as they do pizzas. But they’re also making salads, meatballs and cannoli.

And when asked if they’re going to expand the business to a second location (perhaps in Denver), Lindsay laughs — between their two newborns, “We’re just trying to sleep at night,” she said.

But they are planning one more move to commemorate the pizza-making family: By summer, they’ll change the business’ name from Deli Italia to Leopold’s, in honor of their 8-month-old.

It’s a bold decision after winning — or nearly winning — the title of best pizza in Denver, under their current name. But the Lyons have a vision that’s gotten them here.

“We’ve got to just keep going and keep focused,” Lindsay said. “We feel like the very big underdog.”

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