The “Willy Wonka Of Cheese” Is A Reclusive Colorado Billionaire

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Photo: Leprino Foods
A $3 billion company, Denver-based Leprino Foods controls 85 percent of the market for pizza cheese.

James Leprino grew up in north Denver, the son of Italian immigrants. He went on to found a mozzarella cheese empire, Leprino Foods, that's still headquartered in his childhood neighborhood. It controls as much as 85 percent of the market for pizza cheese, distributing it to companies including Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's.

Leprino maintains a deliberately low profile, but his name appeared often enough on Forbes' annual billionaire list (his net worth is estimated at $3 billion) that one of the magazine's reporters, Chloe Sorvino, checked things out further and got a rare interview with Leprino. She describes Leprino as the "Willy Wonka of Cheese," explores the 50 patents that allows the company to customize its cheese for different corporate customers, and also writes about the ongoing, $600-million expansion of the company's factory in Greeley. Sorvino speaks with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.