4 Dec 2017

THE ENABLERS

WORDS x Mary Marcoux
PHOTOS x Mary Marcoux & Anne Keller

Saturday mid-morning at the 18-Road trailhead is like pulling into tailgate party in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. From families to dogs to college kids, the bike psyche is at an eleven. The trails have something for everyone, never disappointing. We squeeze in a hot lap before Jen and Anne have to get back to their restaurant for the afternoon rush. The entire trail head parking lot will soon relocate for some well-earned pizza and beer. Jen Zeuner, BMX ripper to World Cup downhiller. And Anne Keller, world-renowned mountain bike photographer and all around bad-ass, are appearing smaller and smaller as I am once again humbled by their speed, finesse and cornering.

A round of high-fives and straight to the Hot Tomato!

Sixteen employees are working together to dish out about 400 [pizza] pies, each tasting like they just came out of a kitchen full of little Italian grandmothers. “Now we’re busy” Jen says. I turn around and see the line is now out the door and forming on the sidewalk. Anne unexpectedly jumps out of her stool and busses a table so a new party can take a seat. Jen’s niece, Mini (a smaller, younger version of Jen), brings us another beer as we catch up on life, adventures, and of course some bike nerd squawk. This is Mini’s 7th year at The Hot Tomato. With the help of her Aunt and Anne, she traded in her New Jersey life for a shot at the restaurant business in the wild west. She has proven herself with dedication, grit, mixed with a dash of spunkiness, and consequently moved up the Hot Tomato ladder to a head manager role. A heartwarming piece to the Hot Tomato pie.

Rewind twelve years to 2005. Jen and Anne were working across the street at the OG bike shop, ‘Over The Edge Sports.’ Jen and her New Jersey blood got fed up with the subpar pizza in town and finally put her money where her mouth was. Within four months of taking over the local pizza joint, Jen had a very good problem. She was too busy, and needed Anne to come over and take a chance with her.

Now fast forward past flip phones, free checked-bags, and front derailleurs to our present-day brisk fall evening visit. The restaurant is packed with young, old, locals, and tourists; but there is an overwhelming presence of smiling, dirty, hungry mountain bikers – which is felt everywhere in Fruita. What once was a small cow town just outside of Grand Junction on Colorado’s western slope, is now a name of its own because of the copious amount of fun, flowy, desert-style ribbons of singletrack. The growth and popularity of mountain biking in Fruita has obviously been embraced by the town and community, bringing busloads of tourists and cyclists for much of the year. Business is good for Jen and Anne, but they are not stopping at pizza.

This time it’s Anne’s turn. Her Seattle roots have steered her down the coffee road for many years. With a vision of roasting and brewing the perfect cup of coffee, Fruita now has as good coffee as it does pizza. “Bestslope Coffee Company” opened their doors about a year ago with the teamwork of Tom – who was gracefully persuaded by the two Hot Tomatoes from starting an ice cream shop to going into the coffee business. And even though business is good and life is busier, these ladies are shifting into high gear for the trifecta.

Jerry and his son Loren, might have been initially surprised to find their neighbor, Jen, at their doorstep with such a unique proposition. But 24 hours later, all pens to paper to lock down a brand new double-wide trailer in the nearby trailer park, in exchange for their ramshackled downtown Fruita residence. That happens to share a backyard property line with the Hot Tomato Pizzeria.

After striking the deal with their neighbors, Jen and Anne are ready to move forward and turn what once was dilapidated eyesore into a property set up for multiple food trucks, to park and dish out what we know will be delicious bites. Giving locals and visitors more opportunity for employment, enjoyment and après.

I have nothing but the highest respect for what these ladies have accomplished in their careers, for their community, and lives. Starting with just an idea and a bank loan, they have grown honorable, neighborly, and healthy businesses; keeping quality the priority while still feeding the masses, and taking care of their employees. By setting the bar high, they have inadvertently held other nearby businesses accountable for quality and creativity. Maybe the local brewery should have thanked Jen and Anne in their speech for recently winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival.

Fruita’s east-coast pizzeria and west-coast coffee shop have come together to enhance a “fruitful” community. The city motto is “Honor the Past, Envision the Future”. I think it’s a perfect fit.

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