Pizzeria Rustica: Fighter pilot to pizza chef

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David Brackett transitioned from Air Force pilot to running two restaurants in Old Colorado City, Pizzeria Rustica and Tapateria.

David Brackett transitioned from Air Force pilot to running two restaurants in Old Colorado City, Pizzeria Rustica and Tapateria.

It does sound cheesy: David Brackett prefers to keep landfills empty and bellies full.

Pizzeria Rustica is literally one of the greenest dining excursions in the country.

In 2009, after Brackett submitted a multi-page application, the restaurant was named a three-star green restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association. Three years later, the organization became the 11th four-star green restaurant in the nation, he said.

Pizzeria Rustica received this hard-earned distinction by recycling, buying food as much as possible from local sources, composting, using sustainable materials such as cloth napkins instead of paper, using green-approved takeout containers, and dozens of other details.

“There were 180 steps altogether,” Brackett said.

Brackett attributed his passion for his green business to his youth growing up on a New Hampshire farm in the small town of Orford, a rural community in the western part of the New England state.

“We always had our own produce and we used a lot of recycled building materials,” Brackett said. Of the restaurant, he added, “We wanted to make it look old and rustic, like the country in Italy.”

Brackett and his wife Laura had traveled the globe, as he worked his way to becoming a colonel and a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. They spent 14 years in Europe during his military service.

They had a few assignments in Colorado Springs during his 31-year career, and “my wife told me we’re retiring here,” he said laughing.

Initially after his retirement, he worked as a consultant.

However, in retirement, the couple recalled fondly the wood-fired pizza they enjoyed when they were in Europe. They couldn’t find any to their liking in Colorado Springs, “so we had to create it,” he said.

“We bring in our flour from Italy, our San Marzano tomatoes from the base of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, the yeast is from off the coast of Naples, and we use sea salt.” 

– David Brackett

He had been stationed in Sardinia, though, as he described it, “any place you go, there’s great wood-fired pizza. It’s quite interesting, the different variations.

“It’s authentic wood-fired pizza. We bring in our flour from Italy, our San Marzano tomatoes from the base of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, the yeast is from off the coast of Naples, and we use sea salt.”

As for the cheese used in many dishes, Brackett said, “We stretch our own mozzarella every day. In the summertime, we sometimes make 80, 100 pounds a day.”

The restaurant obtains fresh curd daily from Wisconsin, then stretches it to a “nice, soft, silky consistency” of mozzarella.

The company will buy local produce “when we can,” he said, highlighting a recent purchase of heirloom tomatoes and fresh locally grown basil.

The Bracketts opened the Italian restaurant in 2008. And because they also missed authentic Spanish food, particularly tacos, they opened Tapateria a block away two years later. They follow the same green practices at both restaurants, though Pizzeria Rustica is the only one that is certified.

“When we were building the restaurants out, we thought, it’s real easy to do this green and sustainable,” Brackett said. “We were pretty much pioneers in that in 2008.”

Specific features

The restaurant features Neapolitan pizzas, served uncut and to be eaten with a knife and fork. The restaurant will cut the pizza if the customer asks.

Pizza choices include the restaurant’s “signature pizza,” the Rustica, with crushed San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and Gran Padano Parmesan topped with Prosciutto di Parma and fresh arugula. The Margherita pizza has tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella. In addition, the restaurant offers a daily pizza made from fresh market ingredients.

Pizzeria Rustica also features vegetarian and gluten-free antipasto, along with desserts and an extensive wine list.

Brackett’s favorite is the Quattro Stagioni, which is Italian for “four seasons.” The pizza has four toppings, one for each season — including ham, black olives, mushrooms and artichoke hearts.

“That’s a classic Italian pizza,” Brackett said.

History of pizza

Flatbread has been made since Roman times in similar ovens, “but they didn’t have tomatoes until they came from the New World,” Brackett said. “There was no tomato sauce in Italy until after Columbus brought tomatoes back from the New World.”

The first pizza in the United States appeared around 1910 in New York, and after GIs came back from World War I, pizza joints proliferated.

“That’s one reason New York pizza is very similar to real Italian pizza, thin crust and everything,” Brackett said.

During the last seven years of his service, Brackett worked as the military attaché to the ambassador at embassies in Switzerland and Canada.

“That involved entertaining people, serving a lot of food,” Brackett said.

“I was kind of a hobby chef also.”

Brackett also earned his master’s in business administration, so owning and operating a pizza restaurant was a natural progression, he said.

Pizzeria Rustica

Employees: 20

2527 E. Colorado Ave.

pizzeriarustica.com, 632-8121