At a recent VIP-packed celebration of the 50th anniversary of Beau Jo’s in Idaho Springs, Colorado, owner Chip Bair made a stunning announcement: He was walking away. Selling out.

The date was April 1—April Fool’s Day. It could have been a prank. But Bair was serious. Fortunately, there was a twist: He wasn’t selling Beau Jo’s to some huge restaurant management company or even to another restaurateur with deep pockets.

“I’d like to tell everyone I’m selling Beau Jo’s,” Bair said to the crowd, which included the mayor, a U.S. congressman and a bevy of county and city leaders, according to the Colorado Sun. “It’s the employees who made us, and they’re the ones who are going to continue to make us.”

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In other words, Bair was selling Beau Jo’s—which has six locations and a food truck—to his own staff with an Employee Stock Option Plan.

Colorado’s Clear Creek County has seen hard times, most recently with the impending closure of a mine that already laid off 200 workers in 2015. According to the Colorado Sun, Beau Jo’s is “one of the larger private employers in the county.” It has weathered economic downturns and attracted crowds of skiers and other outdoorsy types for decades, even as other major businesses in the community have closed down.

this photo shows several Colorado-style pies with braided crusts and various toppings

Beau Jo’s / Facebook

As PMQ has previously reported, Beau Jo’s is also home to one of the country’s unique—if lesser known—pizza styles: the Colorado-style pie or mountain pie, invented by Bair after he purchased the original Beau Jo’s location for $8,500 in 1973. Sold by the pound, Beau Jo’s signature pizza comes in oversized slices with a thicker crust that’s braided and sweetened with honey. Piled with a “mountain” of toppings, it’s baked in a wood-fired oven in about 10 minutes, yielding a crispy crust while the outside braiding remains soft and chewy. For a “built-in dessert,” customers can dip the crust in more honey or other sauces.

Bair also capitalized on Colorado’s Old West allure by creating a colorful imaginary character named Pete ZaPigh. The story goes that Pete, a mountain man of yore, disappeared in an abandoned mine shaft and re-emerged two years later with the recipe for Colorado-style pizza. Tragically, just a few months later, he was trampled to death by a woolly mammoth.

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As Bair began eyeing retirement four years ago, he wanted to make sure Beau Jo’s kept thriving and that his employees held onto their jobs. The Employee Stock Option Plan, being developed by Praxis Consulting Group, ensures that Beau Jo’s loyal workers will own shares of the business and have a say in its future.

“You know, when I got into this business, we knew we had something good,” Bair told the Colorado Sun. “We could have done a whole lot more over the years, I guess, but I’m not that organized. I think we’ve done pretty good. And the employees really should get credit for that. That’s the biggest driver here. Now we will start teaching the employees what it means to be an owner…and hopefully that creates an atmosphere in the restaurant for pride, inclusion and people working together.”

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