There are a few constants one may rely on when living in the city of Boulder:
- The city uncomfortably swells during the annual freshman move-in
- The lighted star that appears on the mountain during every holiday season
- The scores of people waiting for a table on the corner of Pasta Jay’s
Having lived in, and around, Boulder for the last 25 years, I can honestly say this is my first time I’ve been inside the famed restaurant nearly empty. It’s currently 10:30am, just 30 minutes before opening for lunch, and the only people in the restaurant are: the staff preparing for service, my colleague and photographer Ruben, and “Pasta” Jay himself, Jay Elowsky. It’s during this time that I’m able to take in all of the details in the restaurant, like the custom-made bejeweled chandelier from Milan at the entrance and the sports memorabilia that surrounds the bar. “Everything in here has a story,” Elowsky tells me.
And I wanted to hear Jay’s.
They say that it can take as long as 4-5 years for a restaurant to be profitable, and those odds may decrease when you’re located in the second-fastest growing state in the country. New restaurants are opening at a fast pace in the Boulder-Denver region, commanding the social media and press circuits—and yet, restaurateur’s like Jay Elowsky aren’t fazed. With a growing bottled sauce business, and 3 established restaurants across Colorado, Utah, and soon Kansas, Pasta Jay’s has a long-established recipe for success. Celebrating nearly 3 decades of being open, you know the owner of Pasta Jay’s is doing something right.
That “something” is consistency, says Elowsky.
Out West with a Sauce Pot and a Paddle
Elowsky’s passion for the industry started with his time washing dishes at his Uncle Sonny and Aunt Kathy’s restaurant, Sonny’s Pizza, in San Clemente. After spending a year at CU Boulder, Elowsky soon discovered that he wanted to ditch the books in order to pursue a life in the kitchen. Serendipitously, an opportunity called him back West, and Elowsky packed up with a sauce pot and a paddle and drove back to Sonny’s kitchen. The next six years were spent perfecting family recipes and learning the ins and outs of the restaurant business.
But Elowsky wanted more, and he wanted to be in Boulder.
Pasta Jay’s first opened on January 20, 1988 in a small house on the west end of Pearl, eventually making his way to the current location at 10th and Pearl a few months later in September of 1988. Since then, Elowsky has focused his menu on family favorites like stuffed jumbo shells and thin-crust New York style pizzas; he also has a rotating list of 140 (and growing) specials. “Families have been coming here for nearly 30 years,” Elowsky says, “they know that the meal they’re going to have is going to be the same, delicious meal they had since their first time.” And with many menu items named after family members, CU Coaches and players, Elowsky’s love for the community is clear.
Many of those dishes loved by customers over the years are all cooked or finished within the kitchen’s pizza oven. From cooking their popular thin crust pizzas, to baking casseroles, garlic bread and even finishing steaks, the pizza oven is at the center of the kitchen. “We introduced sautés on the menu just to take pressure off the pizza oven,” Elowsky says, “We do everything in there!”
Pair that consistency with Elowsky’s focus on building relationships in and around the community, and you touch on just a few of the many facets that makes up the foolproof “system.” This system is what Elowsky refers to when I ask what he thinks makes Pasta Jay’s successful, not just in the Boulder but at his other locations as well; it includes a solid menu, but also regular, exceptional service led by a strong leader. “Everything rises and falls on the strengths of great leadership,” says Elwosky, “We look for General Managers who are leaders and will coach the rest of the staff—someone vocal, motivated and inspirational.” With low turnover rates, Pasta Jay’s is able to attain and retain high-quality talent throughout the years—like some of the back of the house staff who have been with the restaurant for over 10 years.
But for Elowsky, it’s also about family.
Pasta Jay’s regularly switches between taglines like ‘The restaurant you can call home’ and ‘Where customers become family,’ but it’s much more than a tagline. “Many of our customers have been eating here for decades—we’ve become an outstanding tradition for families who meet here for holidays and special occasions. We see our customers grow up with us and then become employees themselves.” And it’s true, because Pasta Jay’s might be one of the few places that command a line for dinner even on Christmas Eve. “Customers become vested in this place, and they feel like they can give feedback all the time,” Elowsky chuckles, “It’s good and bad, but mostly really, really good.” The owner regularly reads and personally responds to feedback, so if you’re new to the Pasta Jay’s family don’t be surprised to hear a response from Jay himself.
From supporting the local football team, to being actively involved in fundraising efforts with surrounding churches and schools, Elowsky is a man who seems to have it all, “We are truly blessed by God at all of our locations, truly.” With the upcoming Hays, Kansas opening and the new bottled sauce venture, Pasta Jay’s proves to us once again that this community icon is here to stay.
For more about Pasta Jay’s, including information on hours and locations, visit http://www.pastajays.com/.