Alumni

Sazza founder pioneers an urban garden

Sazza co-owner Jenni Hayes took members of the DU community on a tour of the restaurant’s garden in July. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Remember when eating organically wasn’t so popular? Jeff Rogoff (BA ’93) does. He opened his earth-friendly restaurant, Sazza, with his wife, Jenni Hayes, in 2006. At that time, it wasn’t about an upcoming trend; it was about a shared passion. Rogoff and Hayes have always believed in organic, clean eating and were excited to start a business they truly believe in.

Eventually, as the food revolution went mainstream, the couple was able to do more and source from local farmers, as many  restaurants in Denver and across the nation are now doing.

What’s even better than getting your food from  local farmers? Getting your food from your own backyard. This year, Rogoff and Hayes embarked on a new adventure: They planted an urban garden in Denver, less than five miles from Sazza.

It wasn’t easy. They hauled in all new soil for more than 800 plants in just under one-eighth of an acre. On a tour of the farm, Rogoff says, “it’s very gratifying work,” though he acknowledges that Hayes is the natural green thumb of the family.

They even keep bees. “Bees are vital,” Rogoff says. Honeybees pollinate about 80 percent of flowering crops in the U.S., which constitutes about one-third of what we eat.  “They’re really quite docile,” he says.

Rogoff, Hayes and beekeeper Sue Durfee want their little farm, which they endearingly refer to as “farmita” (a play on the Spanish suffix “ita,” meaning “little”), to become a learning center. They’re working with local schools to bring in students to learn about urban agriculture. “If you have a yard, or even a rooftop, you can garden and keep bees,” says Durfee.

The bottom line? “Good food is important to ourselves and to the Earth,”  Rogoff says. He’s now working on a new pizza crust made from ancient grains, such as spelt and Kamut, which have never been modified. He’ll grind them himself with his  1950s stone mill right in the restaurant to produce fresh, nutrient-rich dough.

“I feel lucky,” Rogoff says. He and Hayes have pioneered their passion into a successful business while staying true to what they believe in. Their philosophy is not about making money or getting recognition; they simply embrace a planet-friendly lifestyle. So what’s next for the couple? Perhaps a second Sazza location.


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