A Forest Lakes couple has found a new business model for a small restaurant. The married co-owners, Erik and Elizabeth von Tauffkirchen, do not have a storefront, servers or tables – nor do they have a typical food truck.
Instead, they sell take-and-bake pizzas from a kitchen in a trailer parked in their driveway.
Mr Woods Take & Bake is the only restaurant in the Forest Lakes Metropolitan District, one of La Plata County’s largest subdivisions located north of Bayfield on County Road 501. In some cases, Erik von Tauffkirchen had an “ask for forgiveness” approach to business permits, meaning he did whatever he wanted to do and then asked for forgiveness and adapted to the rules. Such a method resulted in a few trial and errors and ultimately a unique way of doing business.
“I don’t want to hear no. I just want to go and do,” von Tauffkirchen said.
When von Tauffkirchen gets a text with a pizza order, he walks about 10 feet to the stainless steel kitchen sitting in the driveway, assembles the pie, then hops in his car to deliver it.
The business could be a replicable model for other neighborhoods, and the start of more businesses in Forest Lakes.
“I think this kitchen now would be a great template if somebody wanted to start a business just like mine,” he said. “Setting this up in a far-off location, where there’s not accessibility to food right away, would be a cool thing.”
Mr Woods, established late 2017, sells 9-inch and 15-inch pizzas with eight extra topping choices mostly to Forest Lakes and Bayfield residents. The company gets its flour from Cortez, offers gluten-free options and handmakes its sauce.
The pizzas are $9 for the small, $13 for the large, and $1 each for additional ingredients. Von Tauffkirchen rarely charges people the full amount when they add ingredients, and “never” plans to start charging more money, he said.
“I want the guy who’s making $8 an hour to afford my pizza,” he said.
He admitted not everyone prefers his take-and-bake pizzas. The company has gained a steady supply of two to 10 customers each day who like the convenience, affordable prices, and homemade dough and sauce.
“It’s nice to have it in the neighborhood, and it’s nice that you don’t need to drive into town,” said Joel Claus, a nearby neighbor. “It’s great pizza.”
The small, at-home operation works perfectly for von Tauffkirchen, who isn’t one to play by other people’s rules.
“It doesn’t matter what job he has. He’s going to be miserable if he’s not his own boss,” Elizabeth von Tauffkirchen said.
Mr Woods is fully compliant with San Juan Basin Public Health. Still, Erik von Tauffkirchen’s approach to the complex small business licensing process was to “ask for forgiveness” – to try out new ideas then, if he got a violation, meet the necessary requirements.
They sold about 250 pies before the health department “told me to knock it off” because meat and cheese couldn’t be sold under a Cottage Food Certificate, he said.
“Basically, I was in a situation where I was going to apologize instead of ask,” he said.
In response, they built the food trailer, and the health department inspected and approved it. Through that process, they obtained a retail food license.
He sold pizzas at the entrance to Forest Lakes – again without permission – and received a violation from Forest Lakes Metro District for selling food on a commercial basis on private property.
Again after the rebuke, the couple worked with the local government to write a contract.
Then, a local store wanted to sell Mr Woods pizza in Bayfield.
“Again, it was one of those situations where you go and do,” von Tauffkirchen said.
Mr Woods was up-to-date with its business requirements, so the couple thought it would be OK to sell in a store, Elizabeth von Tauffkirchen said.
Again, the health department shut them down because businesses need to have on-the-ground kitchens to be a wholesaler, she said.
Finally, he decided to park the trailer in his residential driveway and sell it commercially to the residents in Forest Lakes.
“Surprisingly enough, that’s fine,” Erik von Tauffkirchen said.
Claire Ninde, director of communications for San Juan Basin Public Health, doesn’t recommend von Tauffkirchen’s approach because it doesn’t comply with state statute.
“Our obligation is to protect the public’s health, not inhibit individuals from making a living,” Ninde wrote in an email. “SJBPH operates from the premise that we are partners with food operators, providing information, education and guidance to them.”
The business owners said the governing bodies encouraged them and helped them meet health and business requirements. The regulations are “lighter” now than when they started. The changes will help people test business ideas more easily, von Tauffkirchen said.
In the future, the Mr Woods team and their neighbors would enjoy more businesses, like convenience stores or food trucks, serving the large community.
“It would be nice if there were other food options,” Elizabeth von Tauffkirchen said. “We encourage other people, and we’re not like, ‘This is our area.’ There’s plenty of houses up here for everyone.”