If any restaurant has spearheaded the growth of Amarillo’s gourmet pizza niche, it’s 575 Pizzeria. For eight years in a row, 575 has been named “Best Pizza Parlor” in the Globe-News’ annual Best of Amarillo contest. That’s a considerable accomplishment, especially since 575 – which is a nod to the temperature of its brick pizza ovens – has only existed under that name for nine years.
Owner Brian Kelleher first brought his vision to Amarillo in 2006, when he opened Basil Doc’s Pizzeria at 2803 Civic Circle. It was a licensed product of a popular takeout pizza restaurant in Denver. “I worked for a bar and grill in Denver and the owner came to me one day and said, ‘This pizza place is up for sale and it’s my favorite pizza in all of Denver. I really want to buy it and I need some help,’” Kelleher says. Partnering up, the duo bought Basil Doc’s in 1999. Kelleher ran its two Denver locations, training under the original owner. “That’s where I really learned the recipes, the craft, guest service, all those areas that are vital to the product itself,” he says.
Though it primarily served takeout pizza, Basil Doc’s gained a significant following in Denver, winning several local and regional awards. After opening Amarillo’s Basil Doc’s as a full-service restaurant with beer, wine, appetizers and more, Kelleher split off from the Denver business. He renamed his restaurant 575 Pizzeria and, in 2014, opened a second much larger location at 7710 Hillside Road.
Despite the gourmet focus, 575 quickly won over Amarillo diners. All it took was getting them in the door the first time to try its pizza. “We do offer the most expensive pizza in Amarillo,” he admits. Its most popular dish, The Bender, is a meat-lovers’ pie featuring pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, and breakfast bacon. A large version is $26. “It is a bit of a challenge if they see the price first and haven’t heard any reviews as to our quality of pizza. [But] once people try our pizza, they recognize real quick that there isn’t a lot of comparison to other pizzas in the marketplace.”
In fact, Kelleher has heard over the years from several patrons who told him 575 had reignited their love for pizza in general. “They say, ‘Wow, you’ve turned me onto pizza again. I knew it could be better but there weren’t a lot of options in Amarillo,’” he says. The success of 575, of course, led to an increase in competition – and plenty more options for locals seeking something beyond the national pizza chains. But none have yet challenged its Best of Amarillo reign.
At the same time, 575 also leads city restaurants in national recognition. In 2014, the restaurant review site Urban Spoon (now Zomato) identified 575’s Omni – a supreme-style pizza with pepperoni, sausage, black olives, mushrooms, and green peppers – as the best overall pizza in America, based on a combination of user reviews, ratings and votes. “It shocked me because I rarely eat it,” says Kelleher, who personally isn’t a fan of black olives as a pizza topping.
What doesn’t shock him is the fact that, for many patrons, 575’s approach to the traditional pepperoni pizza is a game-changer. “There are very few [places] in the country that do what we do with pepperoni,” he says. “We slice our own every day and it’s so thin you can almost read through it. What that does is allow the pepperoni to curl up and blacken the edges [as it cooks]. It doesn’t allow too much grease to be imparted into the pizza, which would give it that soggy finish.”
The national recognition bumped up 575’s position on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. These catch the attention of travelers passing through the city, and as a result, business spikes during Spring Break and the summer travel months. But Kelleher and his staff know that the pizza alone isn’t enough to keep local customers coming in his door. “In my opinion, it’s not just the pizza that brings people in. It’s the atmosphere and the service, the environment we’ve created in the guest’s mind. We serve a great pizza – one of the best in the area and, in some beliefs, in America – but we do it in such a way that the guest is treated better than anywhere else they’ve been in awhile.”
In fact, he speculates that the primary product of 575 isn’t award-winning pizza. It’s the entire package, from the bicycling decor on its walls to the diverse selection of beer and wine to the restaurants’ interactive social media campaigns. “It’s our whole way of doing business,” he says.
Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.