December 1, 2023

Pinocchio’s owners find prime spot for Greeley steakhouse

GREELEY – The founder of Pinocchio’s Incredible Italian restaurants plans to open a steakhouse in downtown Greeley early next year.

Pinocchio’s Prime will fill the nearly 3,000-square-foot space at 804 Eighth St. that had been home to the venerable Greeley Chophouse until August 2022.

“Our space in Greeley is pretty small, about 60 seats, and we’ve almost outgrown it,” said Annie Velazquez, who started Pinocchio’s 20 years ago on Main Street in Longmont and opened at 905 16th St. in Greeley last May. “There’s actually a vacant building next door, but we can’t get hold of anybody about expanding there.”

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Pinocchio’s Incredible Italian opened in May at 905 16th St. Its other location is at 210 Ken Pratt Blvd. in Longmont. A Loveland location is closed for renovation. Christopher Wood/BizWest.

Velazquez said she heard some of her customers chatting about the Chophouse space being available, “and they said, “Oh my god, that would be amazing if you could move there. But it had been my dream to open a steakhouse. I thought maybe we could do Pinocchio’s there and do the steakhouse in the spot we’re in, but people said a prime rib house would need more space.

“We were just starting the Pinocchio’s in Greeley and had our hands full, but after two or three months we had our staff set , so we thought maybe we could do the steakhouse.”

And with that, she said, “all of the doors opened.”

As part of preparing the new venture, Velazquez is selling the Greeley location as a franchise to one of her employees. She worked with Travis Gilmore about leasing the Chophouse space for the steakhouse, finalized the details about a month ago, then asked him if she could spread the word.

“That night when we came to work, everybody knew about it,” she said.

The Chophouse owner “didn’t take anything,” Velazquez said. “All the furniture and kitchen equipment is there, so it makes an easy transition. We’ll just paint and put up some different pictures. The bar seats about 12. I think they imported it from somewhere. It’s just beautiful!”

Pinocchio’s Prime will have 120 seats, double the space of the Pinocchio’s location in Greeley. “Actually, it feels like more than double,” Velazquez said. About a quarter of those seats are in a private dining room.

She’s shooting for a January opening and definitely wants to be in business by Valentine’s Day. “We’re having to get a new liquor license,” she said. “ We may open before we get it, depending on demand. We’ve had people say, ‘Just open!’”

Velazquez said opening a steakhouse will bring back memories of her college days at Michigan State University and working at a restaurant called Mountain Jack’s in East Lansing that featured prime rib. She had been cooking at a fraternity house on the MSU campus and then started a catering company out of the frat’s kitchen.

She moved to Colorado in 1989 and opened a Sweet Tomatoes location in Lafayette and Portobello’s in Longmont before founding the first Pinocchio’s in 2003.

At the new Pinocchio’s Prime, the menu will feature prime rib, both for lunch and dinner. Pinocchio’s Prime also will offer three cuts of steak: a New York strip, a ribeye and a filet. They will come with one side order, but always included will be a salad for the table. “It’s a little like a mini-salad bar, with the salad in the middle and toppings around it,” she said. “It just makes it a better experience to have salad with your dinner.

“We don’t want to do a la carte. We don’t want people to have to pay $50 for a steak and then $10 for a baked potato so it’s so expensive you only go there on special occasions.”

Other entrees will include chicken teriyaki, fettuccine Alfredo, hamburgers and a few vegetarian options.

“There will be more sandwiches at lunch,” she said – plus something a little special to her.

“A while back, I opened a place in Firestone called the Sloppy Dog. We had hot dogs with a sloppy-Joe topping,” Velazquez said. “So at Pinocchio’s Prime, we’ll have our version of a Sloppy Joe, but we’ll call it the Untidy Joseph. My partner, Cecil, named it.

“We’ll also make all our own desserts.”

For her beef selections, she’ll look to Greeley-based Aspen Ridge, which processes its meat at JBS.

“We really want to focus on local because these people work in the area, so wouldn’t it be nice for them to come in with their kids and say ‘This place serves our beef.’”

Velazquez praised Aspen Ridge because “they’re very good with their cows. No hormones; this is very clean beef. They’re fed really well, and they have a program of humane treatment. He walked me through how they’re born, how they get to stay with their mothers, get out into the pastures and learn to be a cow.

“They have an emblem we can put on our menu. Unfortunately, you have to slaughter cows to get beef, but their program feels like the most humane way.”

Besides, she said, “we want to support the local people around us. Greeley’s big into beef, and how would we explain bringing cattle in from Oklahoma just to save a little money?”

Does she worry that University of Colorado football coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders will sue her for copyright infringement because she’s named her new place Pinocchio’s Prime?

“I hope not,” Velazquez said. “I hope he’ll come in and eat.”

GREELEY – The founder of Pinocchio’s Incredible Italian restaurants plans to open a steakhouse in downtown Greeley early next year.

Pinocchio’s Prime will fill the nearly 3,000-square-foot space at 804 Eighth St. that had been home to the venerable Greeley Chophouse until August 2022.

“Our space in Greeley is pretty small, about 60 seats, and we’ve almost outgrown it,” said Annie Velazquez, who started Pinocchio’s 20 years ago on Main Street in Longmont and opened at 905 16th St. in Greeley last May. “There’s actually a vacant building next door, but we can’t get hold of anybody about expanding there.”

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Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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