Northside Story: Carl’s Pizza Keeps Denver Italian Traditions Alive

But one landmark hasn’t changed since it first showed up at the corner of West 38th Avenue and Newton Street on May 10, 1953:
The menu hasn’t changed much, either. Ludwig’s kitchen crew still makes sausage and meatballs from scratch and still mixes dough daily for pizzas that are neither thick nor thin. “Carl was from Chicago,” Ludwig notes, “but he’s always done a medium crust.”

One of the few changes to the menu came in 1983, when the restaurant finally earned a liquor license. “Carl had a bit of a gambling background,” Ludwig recalls, “so they didn’t want him to have one.”

DiGiacomo’s gambling background was almost part of the job description for owning an Italian restaurant at the time in north Denver, where the local version of the Cosa Nostra, the Smaldone family, operated

“Denargo Market was big back in those days,” Ludwig explains. “They had a big barbu [card] game going on. They shot Carl in the buttocks.” As it turns out, DiGiacomo was in the wrong place at the wrong time and took a bullet when a rival gang decided to raid the card game, making off with more than $20,000 after shooting up the old produce market (which burned to the ground in the 1970s and now lends its name to a modern apartment complex).
Ludwig was born at the old St. Anthony’s Hospital (which was recently demolished to make way for new condos and townhomes just south of Sloan’s Lake) into a German-Italian family and attended North High School. He got his start at Carl’s as a delivery driver but soon moved into the kitchen. “I liked it from the beginning,” he remembers. “It was kind of meant to be.”

DiGiacomo had two sons, one who passed away in the 1970s and the other who didn’t follow in his father’s food-industry footsteps. So Ludwig became a surrogate heir to the business and was running Carl’s by the early ’80s. But despite DiGiacomo’s brushes with death and his love of fast cars (he sponsored automobile racers at local tracks, as can be seen in photos adorning the restaurant’s walls), he lived to the age of 83 and never relinquished ownership during his lifetime. When he died in 2004, Carl’s passed to DiGiacomo’s sister; Ludwig bought it from her in 2005.

“It’s still a basic blue-collar restaurant,” Ludwig states. “We try to keep the prices to the neighborhood.” Or at least to the neighborhood as he remembers it.
Many of the young people moving into the area have discovered Carl’s and helped keep business strong. For that reason, Ludwig has a sanguine attitude about the development that has flooded northwest Denver with new buildings filled with restaurants, apartments and townhouses that sport an architectural style distinctly at odds with the old bungalows and Denver Squares. “Some of it, I don’t think it really fits,” Ludwig says.

Still, growth has been mostly a positive thing for Carl’s. “I make a decent living here and I employ twenty people,” he explains. “Mainly the cooks stay the same.” One prep cook has lasted for three decades, and Bob, the night manager, started there in 1985.

Although Carl’s is well over half a century old, neither DiGiacomo’s sister nor Ludwig owns the building. Leasing the space means there’s an ever-present concern that the building could sell and that new owners could level the property or raise the rent to an untenable level. But Ludwig isn’t too worried; he just signed a new ten-year lease on the corner space that comes complete with parking.
Ludwig has seen a lot of restaurants come and go in the neighborhood. The original Carbone’s Bakery became

North Denver was probably never the idyllic American neighborhood that some paint it to be; with its location on the edge of more industrial areas and railways, transition has inevitably been part of the story. Italian-Americans moved to the suburbs and Mexican immigrants filled the gaps, bringing new flavors and establishing their own restaurants, which have also withstood the test of time. (

We can decry the “Denver Fugly” architecture even as we enjoy craft beer brewed within blocks of our favorite restaurant patio — and for now, we can still head to Carl’s for a glass of red wine and a “Little Immigrant,” the sandwich that Carl DiGiacomo created to capture the flavor of his neighborhood. Just be sure to toast John Ludwig, who’s keeping this slice of old Denver alive.

Patsy ’ sulfur, Pagliacci ’ s, Carbone ’ randomness, Longo ’ s Subway Tavern : They ’ re all gone. These were equitable a few of the italian eateries that helped define — and feed — the quadrant of Denver known for over a hundred as northwest Denver, the Northside or plainly union Denver. But the area bounded approximately by I-70, I-25, Colfax Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard is nobelium longer an italian enclave, and its old nicknames have been replaced by neighborhood designations that, while historically accurate, were rarely used by locals decades ago. now real-estate brokers and trendsetting entrepreneurs add cachet to properties by invoking the names of Sunnyside, Berkeley, Jefferson Park, Highland ( no sulfur on the end, please ), Sloan ’ s Lake — and the awful LoHi, the sanction of the sort of urban infill and gentrification that many longtimers dirge is destroying Denver ’ s soul.But one landmark hasn ’ thymine changed since it first showed astir at the corner of West 38th Avenue and Newton Street on May 10, 1953 : Carl ’ s Pizza. At least it hasn ’ metric ton changed much, according to current owner John Ludwig, who landed his first job at Carl ’ second in 1976, the year he turned sixteen. Carl ’ s initially opened as a one-room restaurant, but its founder, Carl DiGiacomo, a former cook in the Merchant Marine, expanded the outer space twice in the 1960s by taking over some dental lab that had shared the build up. differently, the brick construction with its crimson, white and green cinder-block panels and the Carl ’ s sign with its jiggly Googie inscription have stood watch as the region around it evolved over the past 63 years.The menu hasn ’ t changed much, either. Ludwig ’ s kitchen crew inactive makes sausage and meatballs from cancel and still mixes dough daily for pizza that are neither midst nor slender. “ Carl was from Chicago, ” Ludwig notes, “ but he ’ mho always done a medium crust. ” One of the few changes to the menu came in 1983, when the restaurant finally earned a liquor license. “ Carl had a bit of a gamble background, ” Ludwig recalls, “ so they didn ’ t want him to have one. ” DiGiacomo ’ s gambling backdrop was about separate of the job description for owning an italian restaurant at the meter in union Denver, where the local anesthetic version of the Cosa Nostra, the Smaldone family, operated Gaetano ’ s — a restaurant that ’ s still standing, though it ’ south been sold a pair of times and renovated arsenic much. DiGiacomo used to run a card bet on in the back room at Carl ’ s — a plot frequented by Joe Briola, a bookmaker and collector for the Smaldones, according to Ludwig. And DiGiacomo besides played cards at other italian hangouts around town. “ Denargo Market was big back in those days, ” Ludwig explains. “ They had a big barbu [ card ] game going on. They shot Carl in the buttocks. ” As it turns out, DiGiacomo was in the amiss identify at the improper time and took a fastball when a rival gang decided to raid the card plot, making off with more than $ 20,000 after shooting up the previous grow market ( which burned to the ground in the 1970s and nowadays lends its name to a modern apartment complex ) .Ludwig was born at the previous St. Anthony ’ south Hospital ( which was recently demolished to make way for fresh condos and townhomes precisely south of Sloan ’ s Lake ) into a German-Italian syndicate and attended North High School. He got his starting signal at Carl ’ s as a rescue driver but soon moved into the kitchen. “ I liked it from the begin, ” he remembers. “ It was kind of think of to be. ” DiGiacomo had two sons, one who passed away in the 1970s and the other who didn ’ metric ton postdate in his founder ’ s food-industry footsteps. so Ludwig became a surrogate heir to the clientele and was running Carl ’ mho by the early ’ 80s. But despite DiGiacomo ’ s brushes with death and his love of firm cars ( he sponsored automobile racers at local tracks, as can be seen in photos adorning the restaurant ’ s walls ), he lived to the age of 83 and never relinquished ownership during his life. When he died in 2004, Carl ’ mho passed to DiGiacomo ’ s sister ; Ludwig bought it from her in 2005. “ It ’ mho still a basic blue-collar restaurant, ” Ludwig states. “ We try to keep the prices to the neighborhood. ” Or at least to the neighborhood as he remembers it.Many of the youthful people moving into the sphere have discovered Carl ’ mho and helped keep business impregnable. For that reason, Ludwig has a sanguine attitude about the development that has flooded northwesterly Denver with new buildings filled with restaurants, apartments and townhouses that sport an architectural style distinctly at odds with the honest-to-god bungalows and Denver Squares. “ Some of it, I don ’ thyroxine think it in truth fits, ” Ludwig says.Still, increase has been largely a positive thing for Carl ’ sulfur. “ I make a decent living here and I employ twenty dollar bill people, ” he explains. “ chiefly the cooks stay the same. ” One homework cook has lasted for three decades, and Bob, the night coach, started there in 1985.Although Carl ’ randomness is well over half a hundred previous, neither DiGiacomo ’ randomness baby nor Ludwig owns the build. Leasing the outer space means there ’ s an ever-present concern that the construct could sell and that modern owners could level the property or raise the rip to an indefensible level. But Ludwig isn ’ t excessively concern ; he good signed a fresh ten-year lease on the corner outer space that comes dispatch with parking.Ludwig has seen a bunch of restaurants come and go in the neighborhood. The original Carbone ’ sulfur Bakery became Lechuga ’ randomness in 1990 ( Lechuga ’ s itself was sold two years ago ). Three Sons opened in the space that ’ second nowadays Cafe Brazil before moving to what is immediately Ernie ’ s Bar & Pizza ( which in turn takes its list from Ernie Capillupo, who opened a restaurant there in 1948 ) and then heading west to its stream Arvada home. A spot on Tejon Street called the Marigold Cafe was one of the most popular eateries in the sphere before a patrol policeman was killed while eating dinner there with his family ; after that, business dwindled until the rate closed in the ’ 70s. Ludwig can talk about all of those places, but he asks if Parisi is any full ; he ’ mho never been, and considers it “ raw ” flush though it ’ s been in the Berkeley region since 1998. ( Parisi besides occupied the Cafe Brazil space before moving to 44th and Tennyson. ) North Denver was credibly never the idyllic american neighborhood that some paint it to be ; with its localization on the edge of more industrial areas and railways, passage has inevitably been character of the narrative. Italian-Americans moved to the suburbs and mexican immigrants filled the gaps, bringing modern flavors and establishing their own restaurants, which have besides withstood the quiz of time. ( Chubby ’ s is only now constructing a dine room after decades of running as a walk-up antagonistic. ) Packs of kids on bikes whizzing between family, the bakery, the butcher and the malt shop class may be a thing of the past, but Highland, Sunnyside and Berkeley are enjoying an unprecedented boom.We can decry the “ Denver Fugly ” architecture even as we enjoy craft beer brewed within blocks of our front-runner restaurant patio — and for immediately, we can still head to Carl ’ south for a glaze of red wine and a “ Little Immigrant, ” the sandwich that Carl DiGiacomo created to capture the spirit of his region. merely be sure to toast John Ludwig, who ’ south keeping this slice of honest-to-god Denver alive.