At the time, Chip Bair's purchase of Beau Jo's Pizza in 1973 looked like P. T. Barnum's most famous maxim coming to life.Beau
and Jo Anne Falk never squeezed more than $22,000 a year out of their tiny Idaho Springs, Colorado, restaurant; so they were more than willing to sell it to Bair
- on April Fool's Day no less!
To make matters grimmer, Bair
knew nothing about making pizza back then.All the Duluth, Minnesota, native knew was that it had to be more fun than his
job as a shoe salesman.
Twenty-five years hence, Bair
has learned at least two things well about the pizza business: it is more fun than hawking footwear; and it pays far better.
Former owner Beau Falk also was kind enough to tutor Bair
in the early going.
A quick study, Bair
own whole-wheat crust two months later. and created his
Mountain Pies, named for their toppings heaped onto the crust - something Falk Advised he
"We like a lot of sauce.We don't just paint it on with brush, we pour it on with a ladle," says Bair
"And not by huge people", says Bair
, "Usually they're pretty fit people".
now buys over 16 tons of honey annually ...
"Wherever you can use sugar we use honey," Bair
explains.That means in the crust, in the sauce and on the side.
Compared to the Mountain pies, appetizers are pretty basic: stuffed mushrooms, garlic bread, chicken wings, and artichoke spinach dip**.They serve sandwiches, but no pastas.Bair
is proud of his pizza menu's variety, Beau Jo
's offers four thicknesses and honey white, cracked or whole wheat crust; seven sauces** (Beau Jo's own sauce, roasted garlic with olive oil, picante, basil pesto, and more); and eight cheeses** (includes a no-cholesterol mozzarella, Gorgonzola, and others); and over 30 toppings.
Kids, including his
own, prefer plain cheese or pepperoni pizzas, a simple treat even Bair
succumbs to occasionally."Cheese pizza is wonderful," he
says."I enjoy [it] once in a while."
... Despite the statewide popularity of Beau Jo
believes that growing his concept will be more difficult now than in the past.
"I liked to do things differently than other people from very early on, before California Pizza Kitchen and Wolfgang Puck and so on," Bair
says."I was looking back on old menus, and we started Mexican, Oriental and Hawaiian pizzas as early as 1974.""The overall quality of pizzas today is much better," he
That's one mistake I made," says Bair
finally found multi-unit success when he
partnered with long-time family friend, Donald Peterson ... Bair
remains cautious about franchise talk.He
says it's too early to screen the inquiries to separate "serious" callers from those who think, "Wouldn't it be fun to own a restaurant?"... Bair
simply opened the earlier stores in cities he
won't franchise until he's
has systems in place to maintain the integrity of the Idaho Springs store.
In 1973, Bair
started in a teeny-weeny space in Idaho Springs, but moved into 1517 Miner St. a few months later, where it has remained.The restaurant originally could seat 18 mountain-pie lovers, and now happily accommodates 700 guests.Bair
has added restaurants in Arvada, Evergreen, Denver, Fort Collins, Highlands ranch, and one in Colorado Springs, with a total of 350 employees.
They would, no doubt, confirm this speculation: Bair
serves a delicious mountain pie and does a darn good job of spinning a mountain yarn.