Glenwood Springs pizzeria Russo’s orders up extra space
Post Independent Intern
An authentic New York-style pizzeria, Russo’s has become a local favorite in its eight years of business in Glenwood Springs.
New York native Frank Schiavone owns the restaurant with his wife, Judy, and they recently expanded the business to include family recipe pasta dishes, a larger draft beer collection and a new dining room, now offering table service after 5 p.m.
“We wanted to have a full Italian, New York-style experience, and most pizzerias offer pasta as well,” said Schiavone. “I wanted to stick to the basics and create a home-style feel, and I want people to feel like they’re coming over to my house to eat.”
Russo’s originally opened in the Van Rand Center in 2005, moving to Market Street in Glenwood Meadows a year later. At that point, the restaurant was 1,450 square feet.
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When Quiznos closed next door in 2010, Schiavone immediately began pursuing the property but ran into complications with the management company. After 22 months of negotiating, he acquired the additional space last July, opening the expanded area in late October and nearly doubling the restaurant’s size, now 2,725 square feet.
“The important thing about the expansion is that we not only added seating, but we also added to the menu the family pasta dishes we grew up on,” said Schiavone. “All the pastas are Judy’s recipes, and she came in and taught all the cooks how to make them like she does.”
Beyond the food, Schiavone works to create a family atmosphere in the restaurant. In choosing a name for the pizzeria nearly a decade ago, Frank and Judy turned to their roots, deciding on Judy’s maiden name.
“Russo’s is a little easier than my name,” said Schiavone with a laugh.
Old black and white photographs cover the walls, depicting members of the Russo family, such as Judy’s parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, in addition to several photos of the Schiavone family.
Both Frank and Judy’s family roots led to the creation of Russo’s, which is reminiscent of the pizzerias in New York. Of course, while they both grew up around New York-style Italian food and prepared it consistently for their family members, Schiavone said the transition to the restaurant scale was a challenging one.
“We put our little recipe together, and the first six batches of dough were total failures because of the higher elevation and the lack of humidity,” Schiavone explained. “One of them was like lava, overflowing out of the fridge. We had no intention of opening a pizzeria when we came here [in 2001], but we grew up on being able to get a slice of pizza that’s quick and good, and there wasn’t anywhere here to do that.”
With seven Locals’ Choice awards as one of the best pizzerias in the valley and a recent certificate of excellence from Trip Advisor, the Schiavones have come a long way from their initial struggles. With the expansion, the Russo’s staff increased from seven to 13 employees, and the restaurant now includes a bar and an expanded kitchen.
“It’s changed in that if kids want pizza and the parents want pasta, we can do that,” said Schiavone. “We didn’t have the kitchen to support that before.”
The new pasta dishes include spaghetti with clam sauce, fettuccine Alfredo with Tuscan chicken and fusilli with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil. The menu still includes all of the Russo’s specialty pizzas, ranging from Pesto Mama’s to Pizza a la Vodka, as well as a variety of salads, sandwiches and homemade Italian desserts.
In the past eight years, Schiavone has also established a solid community role for Russo’s, centered on fundraising events such as Monday motorcycle nights, which take place every week from Memorial Day to mid-October.
“We’ve grown from four motorcycles to about 80,” said Schiavone. “We donate 10 percent of our proceeds from that night to iEmpathize, which fights child trafficking and exploitation. There is also a free raffle with prizes donated from local merchants.”
Schiavone also incorporates veteran-related fundraisers into the Russo’s schedule, ranging from donating 10 percent of Memorial Day proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project to sponsoring World War II veterans on the Honor Flight, which sends them to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II memorial.
The next major Russo’s event will be a fundraiser on June 24 to benefit local Dave Williams, who was diagnosed with stage four cancer. The event will be $10 at the door for unlimited pizza and soda, and all proceeds will be donated to Williams.
“You always have to connect with your community,” said Schiavone. “It’s an important function in business as well as personally. One of the nice things about being in a community like this is that you actually get to know people.”
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