by Molly Reitter

DENVER – When you walk in the door, it’s hard to think of ordering anything other than the pizza buffet. It shimmers before you like an aromatic mirage in the desert of your hunger.

Approach the stainless steel heated smorgasbord to find pizzas covered with a large array of toppings, including chocolate chips, apples, pineapples and other more typical fare. If none of the 10 piping hot pizzas tempt your appetite, feel free to order a specialty pizza, buffalo chicken or taco perhaps, for no extra cost. Then the spinach artichoke pasta appears at the table. It is basically spinach artichoke dip cut with some Alfredo sauce and served over penne with fresh tomatoes and two hearty slices of garlic bread.

Suddenly, the menu deserves a second glance and it is decision time.

Angela and Neal Powell started Geppeto’s Pizza and More in 1988 in Newton. The modest restaurant sat 50 people and was meant to be a take-out and delivery outfit. However, the food became so popular that they expanded it to seat 100 in 1993. The fourth restaurant opened in 2009 in Denver.

Morgan Guy and his brother, Ryan, are the managers and co-owners of the Denver location. Neal Powell creates investment in the company by giving managers a stake in the restaurant.

After graduating from King’s College, Morgan Guy trained by managing at all four locations. He has been with the restaurants for more than 10 years. Neal Powell uses the rules of a corporation with the empathy of a father figure to make the restaurants profitable and a place where people want to work. The restaurants are in smaller markets because Neal Powell wants to keep the restaurants profitable without losing the hometown feel. They are always on the look out for the next location.

Cherie Waters, 27, has been working off and on as a waitress at various Geppeto’s locations since she was 16.

“It is a wonderful, family-orientated place to work,” she said. “It is the only job I’ve ever had where I walk in every day and love it.”

However, she does have one drawback regarding the job.

“My problem is that everything is so good, I’m constantly eating!” Waters said with a laugh.

Melissa Patterson, of Mountain Island, agrees.

“It is the perfect place to take the kids,” she said. “The food is good and everyone is happy.”

The menu features hot and cold subs, 12 different salads, calzones, strombolis, pasta and chicken dishes. Not to mention a list of starters. But that pizza buffet is hard to pass up; especially because you can special order any kind of pizza you want.

“We don’t want to get lumped in with the big chains,” Guy said. “We differentiate ourselves by going that extra mile for the customer.”

For example, every Wednesday is Kid’s Night with half-off meals and a balloon artist.

Morgan Guy is comfortable in the kitchen helping make pizzas in a pinch or gabbing with customers.

“There is purposely no office in our restaurants,” he said, with a smile. “You have to know what is going on in the kitchen and on the floor, and the only way to do that is to be walking around.”

Geppeto’s Pizza and More

7558 N.C. 73, Denver