Tilford’s Wood Fired Pizza is a success story. It is the the kind of story, the kind of business that you want to root for when you learn more about it.. and yes, when you taste what it has to offer.
The Colorado-born, family owned business provides homemade pizzas (traditional and imaginative in its offerings) inside three Colorado food halls that carry local fast casual food concepts. Each pizza is made to order and then rotated inside a 900-degree wood fired oven. In 90 seconds, it is cooked and ready to be served… oh, but not before, olive oil is brushed on to the crust as a finishing touch (the oil soaks into the crust by the time it reaches a table).
How can a pizza cook that fast? It’s all in the wood, according to Tilford’s Co-Founder & Co-Owner Steve Burton. Tilford’s only uses red and white oak in it’s ovens because it will burn hotter than other hardwoods. It burns clean but with no smoke and adds an essence to the pizza that is distinct but at the same time not overwhelming.
“It’s great to hear the crackling wood and it’s fun when you’re watching that fire.. it is mesmerizing,” Steve said. “And when our oven masters have seven pizzas in there and they’re moving them around in a counterclockwise way, and carefully turning each one. They don’t have time to think about anything else. They’re in the zone. I love it. It’s fun.”
Steve has been an entrepreneur all of his adult life and has owned and operated many different businesses. Steve never went to college, because he was eager to start working. In the early 80s, Steve left his hometown in Indiana to come to Colorado. “I packed up my Dodge Omni with all my personal possessions, $200 in my pocket and drove West where I didn’t really know anyone,” Steve said. “As they say, the rest is history. Colorado’s been very good to me.”
Steve started Tilford’s Wood Fired Pizza as as a food truck business with his wife, Judy in 2016. In 2019, Tilford’s open in it’s first food hall location at the Edgewater Public Market, outside of Denver. At the end of 2021, Tilford’s opened in Grange Hall in Greenwood Village. In January of 2022, Tilford’s opened in the brand new Bluebird Market Hall in Silverthorne.
Steve named Tilford’s after his grandfather, Tilford Burton, who was a notorious fisherman in Central Indiana. Back in the day, Tilford would invite up to 100 people on to his lawn twice a year for fish fries. “What he really enjoyed, even more so than the fishing, was watching those people being fed and enjoying his catfish, enjoying their community, talking to each other, laughing and sharing a good time,” Steve said. “That’s what made my Grandpa happy, and that’s what makes me happy. I knew if I ever went into the business of entertaining and serving people, I would name that business after Grandpa Tilford.”
But Steve admits, catfish wasn’t going to be his thing out in Colorado. He recalls how as a child, every Friday night, his family would have pizza together. And he realized how pizza is one of those foods, that almost every one loves and can enjoy together.
“Pizza is a family experience… it’s a community experience,” Steve said. “And I think that people find that one pizza place that they love, that one style of pizza they like, and that becomes their place to go. We want people to make Tilford’s their place to go. And when they come here, we want them to be able to enjoy their pizza with friends and family and colleagues, and spend as much time as they want.”
Steve believes that what people want in a dining experience might have changed a bit during the COVID-19 pandemic and that he finds his customers look to the food halls where there is a little bit of everything to try , instead of a specific menu at a restaurant with white tablecloths.
As a businessman, Steve recognizes that trend and plans to continue to expand Tilford’s Wood Fired Pizza. He had thought about offering franchises but then looked to the heart of what Tilfofd’s is all about and decided that the company must stay a family-run and operated business. He’s very excited for what the future hold… and for all the pizza recipes his Colorado Regional Manager Paul Mosher, aka PJ,o will come up with. (I definitely recommend trying the bacon, egg and green chile pie!)
“In today’s world, we are learning that doing one thing and doing it well is much better than trying to be all things to all people,” Steve said. “Think about some of the fast food restaurants that you go to, and they keep expanding their menus, and they’ve got almost too much going on. Food hall operators are taking that mistake, I believe, of trying to be all things to people, and instead, are working with chefs who specialize in a certain cuisine and creating these great culinary environments.”
The next Tilford’s Wood Fired Pizza is set to open in Leander, Texas, a suburb of Austin. And yes, the food truck is still in service but focuses primary on catering private events.