By Chris Mayo • Photos by Michael Meyer
The basic formula for owning and running a small business is simple: be available to your customers, deliver what you say you’ll deliver at a competitive price, and be consistent. Adhere to those three dictums and you’ll stand a good chance of staying in business. Go a few steps beyond that, and you’ll stand a great chance of being successful for the long term.
Elton and Ashlea Allen have definitely gone those few extra steps—and more. As a result, they’ve built a unique business in a competitive market. Trail Rider Pizza not only features a wide variety of pizzas, sandwiches, and calzones with traditional ingredients like pepperoni and sausage, it is also one of the few pizzerias that offers vegan and gluten-free options.
The couple also goes the extra mile to ensure their vibe is friendly and inclusive. “We wanted the restaurant to be a reflection of who we are,” Elton explains. “We want people to feel as though this is a second home, not just a place to grab a slice. Kind of a community center.”
The Allens started out managing the business—which had been in operation for several years—when it was located in a single-wide mobile home next to Molly’s bar in Tijeras. During its first year under their management, Trail Rider was recognized by the listeners of 94 Rock as “Best Pizza.” Twelve years ago, the couple jumped at the chance to own the business outright. Around the same time, a personal transformation was happening, too: the Allens were becoming attached to the East Mountains. They ultimately moved to Tijeras and have been East Mountain residents ever since.
As happy as they were in the trailer, the Allens eventually realized they were outgrowing it. “We set our sights on a new building that could provide the kitchen space and sense of community we always dreamed of,” Ashlea says.
As luck would have it, a suite just south of Triangle Grocery on North Highway 14 became available. The Allens snapped it up, rolled up their sleeves, revamped the kitchen, and transformed the space into a welcoming restaurant. They opened on Halloween 2018.
While the couple still offers a full menu for omnivores, they also feel that offering a full complement of vegan and gluten free choices is tremendously important. Vegans themselves, they know how difficult it can be to find those kinds of options in a restaurant. To eliminate the potential for cross-contamination with meat or dairy products, they have a dedicated grill and fryer utilized exclusively for vegan food preparation. They also have a gluten-free allergy deck in their pizza oven.
But their most important ingredient, Ashlea says, is love. “We prepare everything with an appreciation for the process, for where we are, and our joy in what we’re doing, and, most importantly, with an appreciation of the special uniqueness of everyone we serve. It is said that food prepared with love tastes better, and we believe that to be true.”
They say they’re off to a good start in the new location. Many of their regulars from the trailer days stop in frequently. When asked what they attribute their success to, both agree that it’s as much about the quality of the food as it is about the atmosphere. “We care about what we do, and we care about people in general,” Elton says. “You don’t have to agree with everyone, but it is important to appreciate everyone as a fellow traveler in the human adventure.”
Speaking of appreciation, both Elton and Ashlea regularly show their thanks for the community that has nurtured them for so many years. They are proud supporters of East Mountain Little League, Upward youth basketball, and several other events and non-profit organizations.
The restaurant is also available for special events. They recently hosted a birthday party during which the kids got to make their own pizzas in the kitchen. “That was a blast,” says Ashlea. “We’ll definitely do more of those.”
“We have never regretted buying the business,” Elton says. “We like meeting people, serving good food, and everything else that goes into providing quality service.”
Ultimately, they want their place to feel like a second home. “We don’t want people to come in and only fill up on pizza or a sandwich,” Ashlea says. “We want them to want to come back and visit us again. If they like our food, we’re pleased. If they have a conversation with a stranger, we’re overjoyed.”
For those who enjoy live music with their meal, Trail Rider provides that on Monday and Tuesday nights starting at 6 p.m. True to their nature, they’ve named the nights “More Love Monday” and “Let Love Grow Tuesday.”
The history of food service in the East Mountains is littered with stories of restaurants that tried to make it and failed. The few that survive have become viable components of the community mosaic. It seems safe to say that Trail Rider Pizza is one of the latter.
Visit them on Facebook or at www.trailriderpizza.com
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