NEW PORT RICHEY — On the eve of the biggest cooking day of the year, many chefs are happy to leave the dinner plans to someone else.
Which explains why the day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for pizzerias.
Cole Kilen, who opened his Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza shop just over a week ago, is diving in, hoping the demands on holiday cooks will help him kick off his business right.
"We are expecting a big night," Kilen said Wednesday. "And the Friday after Thanksgiving is always busy, too. I'm expecting a big push."
Kilen's location at 8402 Little Road, just south of Ridge Road, is the first Papa Murphy's in the Tampa Bay area and the 10th in the state. The take-and-bake franchise offers made-to-order pizzas that customers take home and heat in their own ovens whenever they are ready to eat.
Kilen is so dedicated to using fresh ingredients that his kitchen has no oven and no freezer. He prepared for the Thanksgiving rush by making hundreds of dough balls to be crafted into handmade pies.
Kilen, 29, and his parents, Rick and Kathy, moved here in August from Minnesota, where Papa Murphy's is a staple, to open their own franchise in New Port Richey. Kilen said it was a "leap of faith" based on his belief in the product.
Kilen said he has been a fan of Papa Murphy's since trying it as a college kid in North Dakota. He said the pizza was so good, he still remembers the first day he tried it: Oct. 13, 2001.
"From that day forward, every Sunday for football I was eating one," Kilen said.
Kilen eventually graduated from the University of North Dakota with a degree in communications and political science, but he says pizza was his calling.
"I didn't feel like sitting behind a desk was for me," he said. "I like creating things, and feel I am pretty good at doing that with food."
The first Papa Murphy's location opened in 1981. Now the Vancouver, Wash.-based company is the fifth-largest pizza chain in the country, operating more than 1,250 franchised and corporate-owned locations in 37 states and Canada. Last year, it was voted "#1 Rated Pizza Chain" by participants in the Zagat survey.
During the lunch hour Wednesday, Nancy Atwood and her son, Austin, came into Papa Murphy's for two pre-Thanksgiving pizzas. They ordered a colorful gourmet chicken garlic pie, and a meat stuffed pizza.
"It's like a double-layered pizza. But I'm really excited about this one," Atwood said, pointing to the garlic chicken pie.
Ann Delmonico came in for a pizza to cook on Thanksgiving for her daughter, who didn't want turkey this year.
"It's really convenient. I'm going to try it," she said.
Customers can get Chicago-style, thin and original crusts, and create their own pizza with whatever toppings they like. Kilen also recommends the cinnamon wheel with a side of cream cheese icing, baked for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.
"They make the house smell like the holidays," he said.