Tom Hennessy isn’t actually the Colorado Boy (his pizzeria and brewery are actually named after a mine near Ouray). Hennessy, a “skinny elderly man with glasses” according to one TripAdvisor, was raised in New Mexico but was a frequent visitor to Colorado (Norwood to be specific) from when he was young thanks to his family.
Begin at the Beginning
Hennessy has been involved in the hospitality industry for over three decades, running Italian restaurants (“I like Italian food and Ferraris”) in New Mexico. “Back then everyone thought an Italian restaurant had to have red and white tablecloths and Chianti bottles wrapped in straw,” Hennessy said. He had his own ideas about what an Italian should be and in 1987 opened an upscale Italian restaurant in Albuquerque called Scalo. This was followed by another in Santa Fe and then Il Vicino in 1992. Translating from the Italian for neighbor, or slangily the neighborhood, Il Vicino was what is now known as a “quick service” restaurant and would likely be familiar in style to patrons of Colorado Boy. A year later a brewery was added and Hennessy had seemingly found his niche.
Restless, Hennessy and his wife moved to Salida two years later to open a brewery. This would be one of several stops in Colorado for Hennessy and his wife that would ultimately see him set up shop on Main Street in Montrose. Colorado Boy actually started in Ridgway, but Hennessy sold that location in 2015 to “take [his] foot off the gas.”
In Pursuit of Perfection
Tom Hennessy is a brewer’s brewer. Known and respected across the US in brewing circles, his beers have won numerous awards, but he is the first to admit that to get from being a brewing newbie to being able to brew perfectly drinkable beer is not difficult, but to go from adequate to good and then good to great is not as simple. Hennessy is humble with his assertion that he is still learning, continually tinkering with his brews to try and make them better.
“Customers may not notice these small changes,” he says, but then he doesn’t really do it for the customers, he does it for himself. Hennessy is a self-described beer geek, but attention to detail and incessant tinkering is not limited to the beer at Colorado Boy. The house-made mozzarella, the pizza dough, the music, the temperature, and even lighting are all carefully controlled to create a fine product and an atmosphere that is conducive to people having a good experience.
“When I brew beer I filter the water, so why wouldn’t you filter the water when making pizza dough?” he said. The same principle is used for making the mozarella. “Originally made by old women using water from the Mediterranean Sea, I decided to recreate this saline water to make our mozzarella (which he is at pains to point out isn’t as simple as pouring salt into water).” Colorado Boy also sources ingredients from local farmers and ranchers.
But as a business it is the bottom line that counts. Well, no not really. The bottom line at Colorado Boy is definitely a healthy one, but, and Hennessy knows this sounds like a business cliche, he says he doesn’t focus on the bottom line. To use another cliche, Colorado Boy has more of a build it and they will come attitude. He did and they did.
The Future of Colorado Boy and Montrose
Hennessy has no intention of messing with what is clearly a winning formula, although he will never stop tinkering (not that he could even if he wanted to).
As for Montrose itself, Hennessy thinks the future is bright. “Montrose is changing with the likes of places like The Vine, Crash Burger, and Gin and Ginger opening, and there are still opportunities,” he said. “In 1994 Salida was a cowboy town; when I saw tumbleweeds during our first winter there I wondered what we had done, but it changed. I’ve seen it before and I think it will happen in Montrose.”
Finally, how does he feel after five years in Montrose: “I would like to snub my nose at the jerk who told us that we wouldn’t last six months.”
Colorado Boy opened five years ago May 23rd, so keep an eye on the chalkboard outside for an anniversary special