Love Pizza and Mountain Biking?
We think you’ll devour this interview with Ambassadors Jen Zeuner and Anne Keller
When Jen Zeuner and Anne Keller aren’t devouring fresh Colorado singletrack, they’re slicing, dicing, and shredding mozzarella for “the bike industry’s favorite pizza,” which won a “Best of the Rockies 2020” award from Elevation Outdoors Magazine. Opened in 2005 The Hot Tomato has become a Fruita, CO favorite that’s as beloved by locals as the pristine trails and abundant outdoor activities.
But, there’s more to these women than meets the pie; Jen Zeuner is a former professional BMX racer as well as a celebrated professional Mountain Biker who spent years on the National and World Cup Downhill racing circuits. Her business and life partner Anne Keller is no stranger to the dirt as an accomplished mountain biker as well as professional photographer for such noted publications as Bike Magazine. They were both featured in Patagonia’s Life of Pie documentary as they chronicled their journey riding bikes, opening a restaurant and serving up a sense of community as a gay couple living in a conservitive mountain town. This week we had a chance to sit down with these amazing women and discuss cycling, acceptance, their upcoming eb*tchs bike tour… and of course, pizza.
Floyd’s: Thank you so much for joining us Jen and Anne, we just watched Life of Pie and it was both heartfelt and hilarious. You nailed it. How’d you get into riding?
Jen: I grew up in New Jersey racing BMX when I was 6 or 7 years old with my older brothers, who were pretty big deals on the local circuit. As they got older they got out of the scene, and I got into it. I picked up a GT mountain bike in 1985 and I’ve been hooked ever since. My dad had a bike shop and an indoor BMX track. Riding on that track – those are the best memories of my life at that time.
Anne: I had a bike as a kid but moved to the California Bay Area in 1997 and got bit by the bike bug. Hard. I bought a bike on layaway, back when you could do that, and I think I paid like twenty bucks a month toward it. One day the guy that owned the bike shop gave me a job so I could buy it. Eventually I dropped out of college because I was skipping classes to ride my bike.
Floyd’s: Sounds like there’s an opportunity for a Floyd’s of Leadville University here. How and when did the two of you meet?
Jen: We met in Moab back in 1999 at Chili Pepper Bike Shop.
Anne: Yeah, it was right after my time in California. I bought a bike magazine and flipped to the job ads in the back and found one for a cycling tour company that was hiring guides in Moab.
Floyd’s: Those ads are the best, you can find anything in the back of a bike magazine. Is the shop still there?
Jen: Sure is!
Floyd’s: As most of our readers know, June is Pride Month and you’ve both been large role models and advocates for the LGBTQ community. Do you feel like there are any additional hurdles you’ve had to overcome as gay women either in the restaurant or cycling industry?
Anne: We are definitely aware that there are local people who won’t come in, but as far as defining that as a hurdle, I’ve never defined being gay or female as a hurdle. You acknowledge its existence and move forward from there. Yes, we are aware that people exist that won’t come to Hot Tomato, but to be honest we don’t give it much energy. In fact, we are often surprised by the people who come in that we didn’t think would.
Floyd’s: The subject of equality is at the forefront of our society now more than ever, what do you feel is the best way to teach acceptance?
Jen: We recognize that we are now role models and it’s our job to help our team to see how important it is to be a good human.
Anne: One of the most satisfying parts over the years has been getting letters from employees after they’ve left our restaurant. They send us letters about how much they appreciated the community. One of the things we’ve realized over the fifteen years is that we have a lot more advocates on our side than we were ever really aware of. Advocates who we never really thought would be advocates. People are hard to hate from up close, so lean in. I think that’s a Brené Brown quote, but that’s our experience. We genuinely had to believe in fostering an accepting environment or we couldn’t create it. You can’t just pay lip service. That means being welcoming, whether it’s the super conservative farmer that walks in, you have to be great to them.
Jen: Wow, good answer.
Floyd’s: So true. What was the spark that convinced you to pursue your dream and open Hot Tomato?
Jen: We had gotten to a point where there wasn’t room for growth at the bike shop unless we were going to buy it, which we weren’t. I grew up in Jersey where every street corner had a place like a Hot Tomato, so one day it was like ‘Hey why don’t we do this.’ There was a restaurant across the street that was going out of business and we talked them into selling us their old stuff. We thought we could live here and ride bikes all day and have a ton of fun. We didn’t realize the work that went into it! Blissful ignorance. And, we liked the people and community.
Anne: And we needed a job! We knew we’d get free food and beer.
Floyd’s: Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?
Anne: I know I would do it a lot differently.
Jen: When people talk to us about opening restaurants we’re like ‘no, don’t do it.’ But the restaurant industry is wonderful and it’s been such a positive experience. It’s tough to imagine not doing it.
Floyd’s: 2020 was brutal for the restaurant industry, how has the last year affected you and the business and what have you done to keep moving forward?
Jen: 2020 was weird. Started off pretty great… but, now we’re back and surpassing our 2019 numbers at this point, and that was the biggest year we’ve ever had. We put a lot of behind the scenes effort into it. We wanted our team to feel like their voice mattered. The last two weeks we’ve finally had our dining room open and no masks are required if you’re vaccinated.
Anne: It’s really great to see the energy back. Even when we were just doing to-go orders out of the window, the amount of pizza was overwhelming. We realized how important we were to the community.
Floyd’s: Ok pop quiz; if there was a signature Floyd’s of Leadville pizza, what would you put on it?
Jen: Pepperoni and all the CBD gummies. Sweet, fatty, and salty.
Floyd’s: Mmmm. Yes It’s like a twist on the Hawaiian. How unexpected. And how about riding, are you getting out more or less than before the pandemic?
Jen: We’re riding the exact same amount, and that’s wonderful. It’s been steadily increasing.
Anne: We had employees that needed hours so it helped us out on the ride side of things. We were like sure, you take the shift so we can go ride. We get out three to four times a week but we have two dogs that also need to get out before it gets hot.
Floyd’s: Have you given them any CBD yet?
Jen: Yes! We have a twelve year old lab who’s been lethargic, but I started giving her Odessa’s Tincture a few nights ago and she’s been getting all fired up and playful. I didn’t give it to her yesterday as an experiment to see if it was the CBD and today she’s been super lethargic again.
Floyd’s: And what about you? I guess we should probably talk about CBD at some point.
Jen: I’m 8 months out of hip surgery and I’ve been consistently on the product for a few months and I can’t tell you how much better I feel. Anne and I did a forty-six mile ebike ride in the high country and I was expecting to feel sore and stiff the next day but I got up in the morning and felt so good that I took my bike out for another twenty-five mile ride. I’ve been gifting it to friends, and they all love it.
Floyd’s: And what’s next for you two, as things open up do you have travel plans lined up?
Anne: We have our summer eb*tch tour! We leave for that in two weeks for some big remote, epic ebike rides in the Pacific Northwest through Washington and Idaho.
Jen: When we saw the heat start to tick up… we just want to go right now!
Floyd’s: We’ve seen the routes, it looks incredible. We wish we could join, but suppose we’ll be there vicariously through our CBD. Thanks so much for talking to us today. You’re both incredible athletes, ambassadors, business owners, chefs and, most importantly, fantastic human beings. Thanks for all you do for the sport and community, and we can’t wait to follow along this summer. If our readers would like to follow you, they can check out @eb.tches on Instagram. For more incredible ride footage and insight into Hot Tomato, check out The Life of Pie on YouTube and stop in for a pizza at Hot Tomato next time you’re headed west on I70 from Leadville.