Wholly Stromboli wins Denver’s A-List Best Italian Restaurant

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By Andrea Tritschler

Walking into Wholly Stromboli, guests are transported from a small town in Colorado to the streets of New York City.

The smell of pizza wafts over the usually crowded Fort Lupton restaurant, which recently won Denver’s A-List Best Italian Restaurant at 410 Denver Street. 

Wholly Stromboli overflows with vision and personality, just like owners Melissa and Eric Rickman. The East Coast-inspired restaurant is influenced heavily by Melissa’s upbringing in New Jersey and Brooklyn and her passion for familial Italian food. 

The Rickmans say they’re serious about the quality of everything customers experience at the 70-seater restaurant from quality ingredients and quality staff to a quality experience without an exorbitant price tag. Here, everything counts.

“We can’t do it with mediocrity in terms of our hospitality, our food, taste, quality, our atmosphere, it all has to be there,” Eric Rickman said. “That’s really the crux of what we’re about.”

“It’s the whole experience. You eat with your eyes first, so we knew that going in, that we were going to have to make this place so amazing that people would come from all over,” Melissa Rickman said. 

Wholly Stromboli draws regular customers from Parker, Elizabeth Aurora, and parts of Wyoming, as well as locals from Fort Lupton, Brighton and Denver. 

“The biggest compliment for me when people walk in these doors and say ‘I feel like I’m home,” Melissa Rickman said. “That’s what we’re after.” 

The business is a family affair, since Melissa and Eric are married and many of the recipes come from Melissa and her family. She wants patrons to feel like they are being fed by mom, eating food that’s filled not only with delicious Italian meats and cheeses, but also with love and passion.

All ingredients are delivered fresh and everything is made from scratch, said Eric Rickman, who calls himself the ‘driver behind the dough,’ which forms the backbone of the restaurant menu. 

Melissa Rickman said she didn’t want pizza on the menu originally, unless it was true New York-style.  Three years and many recipes later, Eric Rickman finally found the perfect dough. Aged for 72 hours, the signature dough is used for pizza, the stromboli and garlic knots. 

Melissa Rickman said it was always her dream to open a restaurant. When other kids were watching cartoons, she was watching the Food Network and PBS specials. By the time she was 20, she already had a name picked out – Wholly Stromboli.

After layoffs from mid-management jobs in corporate America, Melissa Rickman started a mobile lunch service, which eventually turned into catering opportunities in Fort Lupton. 

“Once we started doing the catering, that really took off,” Eric Rickman said. “So that was really kind of our affirmation that people around here really like this cuisine and might like a full-service, sit down restaurant.” 

The couple put more than just their pocketbooks into the restaurant, though. They put their hearts, souls and sweat into opening Wholly Stromboli, which required extensive remodeling of the historic St. John’s building in Fort Lupton, which was built in 1912. 

The pair did most of the remodeling themselves, but they found a great deal of support from community members, including retired contractors and city councilors. 

“It was painstaking,” Melissa Rickman said. “But what started happening is people would come knocking on the door and they’d say, ‘this is the coolest thing to happen in Fort Lupton and ‘how can I help?’” 

Melissa and Eric Rickman said they were blown away by the show of support from the community, and by the free help so many were willing to offer. 

“If we had opened anywhere else, would that have happened?”  Melissa Rickman said.  “I very quickly realized what this restaurant was about was community.”

“It really takes on a special notion for us, supporting your community, giving back to the community,” Eric Rickman said. 

Wholly Stromboli donates and helps out with a lot of local events, and wants to continue to help reinvigorate Fort Lupton’s downtown. And while the couple have plans to expand and possibly open other locations, they want to maximum their Fort Lupton location first.

“It’s my passion to revitalize and bring back what we lost by preserving the historic elements of the building,” Melissa Rickman said. 

Plans for expansion include a bigger kitchen, more seating and a bigger bar. The Rickmans also want to keep the high ceilings and original stained glass windows, as well as adding their own personal touches, including a subway gate leading down to the speakeasy or the street signs marking each table. 

The expansion is probably a year or two away, but the restaurant already has many awards under its belt, including the Denver A-List Best Italian, multiple Best of Weld County awards, Taste of Adams County awards, Best of Taste of Brighton, Best of Yelp and two or three international pizza competition awards. 

“All of those things are really just a testament to our commitment of quality,” Eric Rickman said. 

Wholly Stromboli is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. For more information, hours or to peak at the menu go to www.whollystromboli.com