Boulder’s Pizza Nirvana

Nick N Willys at 8th and Pearl in Boulder keeps it fresh (courtesy image)

Nick N Willy’s Rises Again

An intoxicating combination of cheese, tomatoes and glorious dough come together hundreds of times each day on the west end of Pearl Street, creating pizza so fantastic that fiercely loyal fans line up each day in ravenous anticipation.

This is Nick N Willy’s, 24-time Best of Boulder winner. It’s not old-fashioned New York style pizza. Rather, this is a pizza extravaganza, topped with high standards, imagination, and the ups and downs of a business brought back from the brink by customer love. Finished off, of course, with a little fresh oregano.

Toss in other ingredients — carb wars, a franchise effort gone awry, the construction bender on Pearl Street’s west end — and it has been a challenging time for one of Boulder’s best loved businesses, run by the country’s foremost take-and-bake pizza pioneer, Terry Jones, aka, Willy.

“I’m still here. I still love what I do,” Jones says.

It’s been 27 years since Jones and partner Keith McQuillen opened the first Nick N Willy’s at 8th and Pearl Streets in downtown Boulder, introducing the take-and-bake pizza concept to raves. Boulderites loved how much better a whole pizza tasted coming out of their own ovens. The fresh and super high quality ingredients kept them coming back for more.

A quick note on this pizza. Nick N Willy’s is to pizza what Prada is to pumps – best quality, superbly crafted. The mozzarella is but one distinguisher (made by New York’s famous Polly-O, this ain’t the flash-frozen white stuff 95% of pizza joints use). Unlike Prada, Nick N Willy’s prices are reasonable.

“My mantra has always been to make everything from scratch using the freshest and best ingredients I can find, to always be generous with my toppings and charge a fair and honest price,” Jones says.

In the downturn of 2008, for example, Jones created his “Obama Stimulus Pizza,” an extra large cheese pizza for just $10.99. He’s kept in on the menu, God bless him. This is the good stuff people. Unbleached, 85% kernel wheat flour dough topped with sauce made from Stanislaus Tomatoes and not a drop of water. It’s crazy delicious.

If Jones has evolved the business economically, he’s also progressed it gastronomically. Gluten-free crust is on the menu (delightful). He added Fresh Red Bird rotisserie chicken and chicken wings a few years back, inspired by the delectable roasting style of Germany at Oktoberfest and South American street vendors. The addition has been a hit. I met Jones early one morning at Nick N Willy’s, where he was prepping thousands of never-frozen, fresh chicken wings for a mass of Super Bowl orders using his own rub and sauce made daily.

The passionate and hard-working Jones is a fixture on West Pearl Street, a neighborhood Daddy-O well known by his legions of loyal fans.

2015-01-29 21.55.58These days, however, Jones is reaching further to get the word out about his pizza, and trying mightily to overcome the sales-disrupting construction on west Pearl.

“I probably got a little too comfortable letting our reputation speak for itself,” Jones says.

Too busy making pizza to spend time on his computer, Jones is finding a way to jump on the social media bandwagon, asking his hippest employees to chime in and encouraging customer reviews on Yelp.

He’s developed a full service catering menu that’s quickly taken off with downtown businesses. And Hungry Buffs now delivers all things Nick N Willy’s – just start your oven.

Jones, who reached out to Boulder’s renowned restaurateur Dave Query (a friend for 25 years) for advice and surrounding neighbors for support, has been heartened by the response.

“One of my customers bought pizzas to pass out to his neighbors and remind them that we’re here,” Jones says. “It’s meant a lot to me, and really the challenges have been worthwhile.”

When the dust settles, Jones will be surrounded by even more downtown businesses. He’ll still be close to the loyal neighbors who have sustained him. And he’ll be a little savvier about keeping people acquainted with what is possibly the best pizza they will ever taste.

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