The Niwot Community was left reeling when Craig “Lefty” Harris, owner of Lefty’s Pizza, the 24 year old establishment on 2nd Avenue, was killed in an auto accident last September. Harris wasn’t just known for his slices, he was known for how he treated people. A larger man with a big smile, a penchant to wear colorful shirts, and a love for science, he welcomed and connected with guests. He could be counted on for entertaining conversation, and for supporting school, church and other community events with pizza donations.
When Harris passed, there was a risk that residents would not only be faced with mourning the beloved owner, but also that they’d lose the community spot he built. Earlier in the year the local Abo’s pizza outpost was shuttered as it rebuilt after a fire. Niwot would be left without any slice slingers.
A solution fortunately appeared. Prominent community members encouraged Harris’ pizza chef Lorenzo Villalobos, who had worked there for years, to take over ownership of the business. With much relief, and in the context of grief for his beloved boss and friend, Villalobos accepted. The restaurant reopened in December, tables almost immediately full with families and students who had always loved Lefty’s.
“Everybody asked me if I wanted to open it and they suggested I call the family.” Villalobos explained, “I called Lefty’s daughter and told her that I could buy it. After so many difficult weeks taking care of paperwork, cleaning up, putting in a new floor, painting, the lawyer called. We signed on November 29th. Everybody is happy that we reopened. They’ve said ‘we need pizza!’”
As Villalobos’ ownership became a reality, so did the emergence of an entirely new set of responsibilities, and a feeling of stress that most restaurant owners are familiar with. “Believe me, for one month I didn’t sleep that well. Then, when we reopened we had to worry about things like account numbers with suppliers that meant I couldn’t get any food until I opened a credit line. And I didn’t have money to do it because I was unemployed for two months while the business was closed after Lefty died,” Villalobos said.
As a business owner, Villalobos knows that the community wants him to continue to provide the same quality pizza they’ve loved for years. His future planning is going hand in hand with memories of Harris.“The relationship was more like family, friends.” Villalobos expands, “It wasn’t like employee and owner. I felt like I was going to my house when I worked there every day.”
Villalobos recounted how he heard about what happened to Harris, first recalling that he left at about 7:15 pm, to take a pizza delivery. “He was in good spirits, not tired at all. He left and I was cleaning the floors and when I took the water to throw away outside, I heard the sirens of the ambulance coming from Longmont and Niwot and Boulder. I heard them and thought it sounded like a big accident, but I didn’t think it was him. Then when I came back the next day to work, I saw all of his family sitting on the patio. Then they told me what happened,” Villalobos recalls.
Villalobos remembers them working particularly closely the last few years during the pandemic. “Lefty and I were the only two people customers saw every single day. Drivers didn’t come, or employees weren’t there, Lefty had to take the orders and do deliveries. I had to cook. People know him and I very well,” Villalobos recalls.
Immediately, once Lefty had passed, Villalobos kept his spirit alive.
The next day. There were several pre-orders for school pizzas and he knew that those requests needed to be filled so the kids would have food.
And since he’s been gone, Villalobos says he sometimes sees him in dreams. “I have a dream, we were working and we are busy and pizza is going by. and nobody was helping us. We had to go faster, faster. I had these dreams two or three times.”