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Hometown spirit baked into pizza chain’s success

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Had Jon Patten and Bill Scott set up shop anywhere else in Albuquerque, the Dion’s name might have become locally synonymous with moussaka or stuffed grape leaves.

Or perhaps it might have been forgotten long ago.

But Patten and Scott – fresh from Michigan and looking to open their own Greek restaurant in the sunnier Duke City – made a fortuitous decision to start out in an old pizzeria near Montgomery and Juan Tabo NE. In an effort to help them get cash flowing quickly, the previous owner taught the duo some pizza-making basics so they had something to sell while they awaited the delivery of their special kitchen equipment.

Turns out, they made some pretty good pies.

“The Greek food-making equipment eventually came in and everyone said ‘We really don’t like your Greek food. You should keep making pizza,'” says Marketing Director Deena Crawley. “So they did – really the only thing Greek left on the menu is our Greek salad and Greek dressing – and the rest is history.”

That was 1978. Today, Dion’s has 20 locations and 1,400 employees – mostly teenagers and young adults with a go-getter spirit that the company specifically seeks in its hiring process. It was voted the “most admired” company on this year’s Private 100 list.

Dion’s has concentrated primarily on its hometown, with 15 locations in the larger Albuquerque metro. But it continues to make moves out of state with two stores in Lubbock, Texas, one in Colorado Springs and another about to debut in the Denver area.

The growth hasn’t been without its challenges. The company’s first out-of-state foray – a location in Sandy, Utah, in the early 2000s – did not last. But Crawley calls that failure and other expansion-related hiccups since then “great investments in our education” that have strengthened the company in its push to become “the most admired regional restaurant brand in the country.”

Dion’s – where pepperoni-and-green-chile pizza is so popular, the chain burned through 322,400 pounds of New Mexico green chile last year – now has a clearer picture of how to expand smartly without sacrificing its identity, a brand Crawley says was built on quality ingredients and restaurant spaces that foster conversation and community.

“In many ways, yes, it has evolved,” she says of the company. “And in many ways (it hasn’t).”

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