It’s quarter to nine on Saturday, and Cassie Colombo is still smiling as she welcomes the last customers of the night. Lured in by the aroma of homemade pizzas and pastas, or maybe just the certitude of deliciousness, customers flow into Colombo’s Pizza and Pasta at a steady pace, for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
The family-owned and -operated pizzeria has been a fixture of Bozeman life for nearly 40 years. Joe and Janet Colombo bought Karl Mark’s Pizza on 1003 West College Street, changing the name in 1987. Over time the Colombos have made a name for themselves as a friendly, delicious pizza stop with something for everyone. Their daughter Cassie owns Colombo’s today, and it’s still hopping.
Chasing Montana’s fly-fishing prospects, the Colombos moved to Bozeman from Beatrice, Nebraska, in 1977, with their 2.5 kids (Cassie had not quite arrived yet). After a stint of running The Old World Deli on Main Street with another local family, they bought the pizzeria in 1985. Joe Colombo grew up outside Long Island, New York, and had relatives in the pizzeria business, which was helpful for sharing recipes and tips. His kids grew up at Colombo’s – both playing and working. “I would refill napkins, bus tables, get in the way,” Cassie reported. “On Friday nights, the whole family would work.”
As for the food, one hardly knows where to begin. Personally, I would be satisfied if the menu only held pizza, salad, and garlic bread. The crusts are crispy, the marinara tangy, the traditional salad bar is thankfully back post-COVID, and a meal could be made out of the garlic bread alone, with its crunchy buttery shell, hints of parmesan, and squishy center.
But one can also find hot and cold sub sandwiches, ravioli and manicotti, meatballs, calzones, and pesto crostini. The baked ziti and eggplant parmesan have no competition in Bozeman whatsoever. One of the most popular orders is the weekday lunch special: a slice and trip to the salad bar. Gluten-free pizza options are available, there’s a proper local beer and wine selection, fountain sodas, and locally-made cookies if you somehow have room left. “Everything we can make in-house, we do,” explained Cassie. “We make our sausage here, our meatballs, and I bake the bread from scratch every morning.”
The building in which Colombo’s resides has seen some changes over the years. The 66-year-old structure was originally called “West Gate Village” and is considered Bozeman’s first strip mall. At different times, it has housed a ski shop, a saloon, a photo shop, and a greasy spoon. In more recent memory, the building has also been home to the second iteration of Bozeman’s Food Co-op, an eye clinic, a VHS rental store called Video Rodeo, three frozen yogurt shops, a Verizon store, a skateboard shop and, soon, a new tap room!
Cassie and her husband Seth now own the building and have expanded the restaurant to include more restrooms and more games in the arcade room, dubbed Joe’s Fun Zone. The Zone holds standing arcade games, a Ms. Pac-Man table, a custom Mario Brothers machine with the Colombo’s logo, skee ball, a juke box, and gumball machines.
On a typical evening, a line forms at the counter, where patrons wait patiently for their turn to order. David Bowie tunes play in the background, mixing with the sounds of conversation, laughter, the TV, and video game pings. Nearly everyone who walks through the door gets a personal greeting from Cassie, who seems to know each person by name. “My customers are pretty great,” she said, smiling. “I’m very lucky – I get to know the best of Bozeman.”
Not surprisingly, the Colombo family has always deeply valued a sense of community. They are supporters of local clubs and schools; a portion of the sales proceeds go to Longfellow and Irving elementary schools a couple nights a month, and they plan to start doing this with the Bozeman Children’s Academy soon.
“This community has seen us through so much – we’re so honored to be a part of it,” said Cassie. “It’s important to us that people feel welcome in here.” And welcome we do feel, whether it’s cheery college energy on a rowdy Cat game day, a quiet Sunday pick-up order, a date night, or a multi-generational family celebrating a birthday. The culture of Colombo’s attracts customers who keep coming back, because we know it’s one of Bozeman’s greatest gems.