Bad pizzas in college leads alumnus to career in pizzeria

All the ingredients for a successful future pizza shop were right at Jeff Rogoff’s (BA psychology ’93) fingertips as a DU student.

He learned what bad pizza tasted like.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t have much spending cash to go out and eat, so I lived on terrible pizza delivery,” Rogoff recalls. “Maybe unconsciously, this is why I’ve tried to make amazing gourmet pizza.”

He also got a taste of what a good restaurant looked like when the first Chipotle opened next to campus.

“I thought the concept was brilliant, so I used a lot of their ideas … quick-service, a simple menu and do what you do really well.”

And he bartended for summer work — perfect hands-on experience.

All that was left to do was to start that successful pizza shop. Fast-forward 10-plus years after working in restaurants, and that’s exactly what he did. In June 2006, Sazza opened at University and Orchard Road, a few miles south of DU.

Sazza (a combination of SAlads and PiZZA) offers eight salads and 11 pizzas. Their Sunshine Salad, the most popular, is field greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, avocado, sunflower seeds and cheddar cheese, tossed with a creamy lemon vinaigrette. The most popular pizza is spinach, although that includes garlic oil (made in-house), mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, roasted baby portabellas, roasted eggplant, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts.

Rogoff says Sazza supports sustainable, certified organic agriculture and farms, and it buys local (to decrease fossil fuel dependence), recycles and uses recycled paper and glass products. Sazza also doesn’t use any plastic in the restaurant; items that look plastic are made from corn, so they are compostable.

“Organic and all-natural ingredients because that’s how we eat at home,” Rogoff says.

The idea for Sazza came not long after he and his wife, Jenni, had their first child.

“We couldn’t keep bartending; we had a combined 30 years experience in food service, so opening a restaurant seemed logical,” he says.

Today he gets both customers and employees from DU.

“I’ve hired a few students, so their friends come in and old DU friends and faculty members stop by.”

He credits DU for helping him with the venture.

“I was a psychology major, and as a bartender this was very helpful; listening is a great skill,” he says. “And I think my time at the Chi Phi fraternity taught me leadership, teamwork and the importance of philanthropy.”

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