“It’s intimidating,” says Alex Seidel of the 35-year-old Frontroom Pizza takeover. The neighborhood pizzeria at 13795 West Jewell Avenue in Lakewood has announced it will close on January 9, but the doors won’t stay closed for long.
Seidel – a James Beard Award winning chef, owner of Mercantile and Fruition and one of the founders of Chook Charcoal Chicken – has lived in the Frontroom neighborhood for almost twenty years. “I loved coming here all the time and I supported him,” he says. Hailing from Wisconsin, Seidel was a fan of Frontroom’s tavern-style thin pies that reminded him of his home.
But after the original owner sold the place a few years ago to Bruce Prior, “it got a little bit worse,” Seidel says, adding that although Prior has a background in real estate, “he probably sounds like restaurants aren’t his forte. ” Then, during a chance meeting at a nearby business, Prior and Seidel got down to talking, “and I just said,” If you ever need help or are looking to sell, please let me know. know, “” Seidel recalls. “So he called.”
Prior will now own Seidel, and in two to three weeks (if everything stays on schedule) the building will reopen as Roca, short for “rocambolesco”, which means “fantastic” and “daring” in Italian, explains Seidel.
Although Seidel is best known for its upscale restaurants, his experience in opening the fast and casual restaurant Chook, which now has three locations and a forthcoming fourth opening at Cherry Hills Marketplace in Greenwood Village, has given him a new appreciation. to provide a neighborhood with a place to enjoy high quality food at affordable prices. So he doesn’t plan to raise prices much, if at all, at Roca, while opting for fresh ingredients and a more refined dining experience, with full service and a host.
Currently, all Frontroom hot dishes go through a single oven. Seidel therefore adds a new cooker and hood system. Pizza will remain a priority, although the dough will now be made using natural sourdough (a decision that matches the current sourdough crust trend). “I was a little nervous doing that here,” he admits, “but I was like,“ You know what? If we want to make dough, let’s do it. It’s not harder, but it’s just more flavor. “
The pies will be available in a thin crust tavern style as well as a thicker Sicilian style, which Seidel says is similar to the Detroit style that is so popular right now. The menu will also include staples such as garlic bread, wings and lasagna; new additions like mussels and polenta; and a range of sandwiches and salads. The sausages will be sourced from neighboring Italian grocery Carmine Lonardo’s, and Frontroom’s salad bar will stick around, albeit with a marbled makeover.
A big change will be the fresh homemade pasta using an extruder; the pasta will be served with classic and simple sauces including puttanesca, vodka sauce and bolognese. “I started in Italian restaurants a long, long time ago,” says Seidel. “I’ve always had pasta on my menus because it’s always been a part of me. But this is the first time I’ve come back and done a little pasta restaurant since, like, thirty years ago.”
The interior is also getting a facelift. Black and white checkered tiles will be added to the floor. There will be new chairs, updated booths, copper shards everywhere and a new five-seat bar, perfect for tasting the wine selection. “This is actually my first wine program I’ve ever done,” Seidel notes, adding that he brings authentic Italian wines as well as classic domestic varietals. A selection of local beers will flow from a new tap system, although buckets from PBR, Miller High Life and Coors will also be available.
Former Chipotle Marketing Director Dan Fogarty, who helped create the brand for Chook, also contributed to Roca’s branding and design. Heading the kitchen is Executive Chef Tim Bender, who was the Opening Chef of the Comal Heritage Food Incubator and reopened the non-profit Osage Cafe as Executive Chef at the end of 2020.
Cristian Crostelli, originally from Italy and owner of Italian restaurants there and Puerto Rico, lived in Austin, where he sold freshly made pasta dishes from a food truck; now he will run the front of the house at Roca’s. “He just brings a lot of knowledge to the team, a lot of authenticity to the team, but doesn’t have that stifling,” said Seidel.
While some of the current employees plan to stay until Roca’s, Seidel plans to add about 20 more. “I hope we build a strong and strong team,” he said. “But I foresee a challenge in the hiring space. It’s been everywhere.”
Despite the challenges and some concerns over the reaction from longtime Frontroom regulars, Seidel is excited about the future of what he hopes to become a neighborhood staple in its own right. “The goal is just to improve the quality and update the recipes,” he concludes, “while remaining a nice little corner in the suburbs so that people can eat well as a family.