Grand Lake restaurant: Couple take over Grand Lake pizzeria |

Grand Lake restaurant: Couple take over Grand Lake pizzeria

by Cyndi Palmer
Sky-Hi Daily News

Grand Pizza reopened its doors today with new owners Jay and Dee Johnson, who purchased the business in mid-February from Dana and Brian Stringer. They had been closed a week for spring cleaning.

The new owners kept the menu much the same out of loyalty to the large group of regulars. The changes they made have more to do with atmosphere and quality assurance.

“We’re not going to change anything unless we can make it better,” Jay said.

The Johnsons, originally from Orange County, Calif., have made Grand Lake their home for the past two years. They settled into Grand County after working for friends who had owned the Elk Creek Campground.

Dee and Jay took one look at Grand Lake and, “we thought the area was gorgeous,” Dee said. “We just absolutely loved it. That’s why we’re still here.”

As they discussed settling in Grand Lake, the couple said to themselves, “only if there is decent Mexican food.” Then they had a good meal at Pancho and Lefty’s and the rest, as they say, is history.

The savvy entrepreneurs looked at several business options.

An opportunity came over the grapevine from Mountain Lake Properties who heard that Brian Stringer was thinking of selling Grand Pizza.

The news came to the Johnsons the day before Stringers made the announcement official.

The Johnsons were at the right place at the right time and it was a great fit for Dee and Jay, whose paths first crossed 10 years ago at a restaurant in California.

Jay spent almost nine years cooking in restaurant kitchens, mostly in Denver. After he and Dee married, they would entertain quite often and when Jay made something the two really liked, they joked that “this’ll go on the menu.”

Dee’s expansive culinary interests come from her Italian mom and her Mexican father.

“Both were exceptional cooks,” Dee said. “It’s always been a passion of my mom’s to cook and it quickly became a passion of mine.

“Cooking and entertaining … that’s kind of how I got into this. Everybody daydreams. … This is pretty much a dream come true for me. This is not a job for us, this is a passion.”

The Johnsons said the place didn’t need much work before they re-opened it, beyond adding some color to the walls “and a little Italian flair.”

“I take great pride in our pizza,” Dee said. “It’s a good product and we’re going to stick with it.”

The menu includes the classic Italian appetizers, salads, spaghetti, calzones, paninis, and specialty and build-your-own pizzas, ranging from $4.25 to a 16-inch pie for $16.50. Recommended items include the breaded, toasted cheese ravioli; chicken nuggets stuffed with parmesan cheese and artichokes, Washington apple salad, Jay’s nightly specials and Dee’s soups.

Offerings won’t change in the summer and the Johnsons offer daily evening specials during the winter months.

Additions include more soups and the couple has reverted back to the traditional way of grilling paninis. They’ve also bumped up the quality of the cheeses they use.

“We’re using the best ingredients we can get,” Dee said, adding that she hopes to also grow her own herbs, starting this summer.

The dining room allows for seating for almost 60 people and Grand Pizza still offers to-go service. The Johnsons are also open to catering food (at another location) for up to 100 people for special events. The new owners are also pleased to be the only place in town that carries spumoni, a flavored Italian ice cream (pistachio, almond and cherry).

“It’s exactly what I was looking for, what I remember as a child,” Dee said of spumoni.

Another slight change are the hours. The restaurant is now open five days a week, instead of three.

Hours of operation are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Monday and until 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (if busy).

Grand Pizza is located on the boardwalk on the north side of Grand Avenue, at the east edge of Grand Lake’s main street through town.

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