Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Pizza Fusion Set for Ohio Expansion

pizza fusionPizza lovers in central Ohio could be eating green by the end of this year, if all goes as planned for a small outfit in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Pizza Fusion's founders, Vaughan Lazar and Michael Gordon, have begun parlaying their handful of Earth-friendly restaurants in Florida into a nationwide franchised operation.

A franchisee based in Pennsylvania owns development rights in an area that includes central Ohio and will begin opening restaurants in March, starting with a suburban Pittsburgh unit. Plans call for a central Ohio restaurant by the end of the year, although a location has not been announced.

Lazar and Gordon "were college buddies who wanted to start a restaurant, and at the same time try to be kind to the environment and feature healthy foods," said Randy Romano, executive vice president in charge of franchising.

Pizza Fusion, whose company motto is "Saving the Earth, one pizza at a time," is certainly all they dreamed of.

How does the chain differ from those that buy a few organic veggies and use Earth-friendly light bulbs?

"We use 100 percent recycled bluejeans for wall insulation," Gordon said. "We recycle hot air from the ovens in a heat exchanger to heat the water. All appliances are certified by Energy Star. Our air-conditioning units are 30 percent more efficient than conventional. We install only low-flow toilets and low-flow wash sinks in the restrooms. We use recycled and soy materials. All our lighting is from (compact fluorescent lights). Our sinks are made of bamboo, a renewable resource. The ceiling tiles are 70 percent recycled material. All bags and boxes are recycled. All plasticware is biodegradable."

He paused to take a breath, and he hadn't even gotten to discussing the food.

The menu, Gordon said, is 75 percent organic food, and as much as possible is acquired from farmers near each store.

Pizza Fusion sells pizzas, focaccia sandwiches, wraps and salads.

Pizzas can be customized with toppings such as artichokes and wild-caught shrimp, but the favorite menu item is Bill's Pizza. It features organic New York strip steak; tomato sauce; mozzarella, aged Parmesan and Gorgonzola cheeses; red, yellow and green peppers; oregano; and red onions.

Prices outside Florida haven't been determined, but in Fort Lauderdale, a large Bill's costs about $30.

Speaking of the chain's environmental sensitivity, "You'll see more and more restaurants moving in that direction," said Mark Glasper, director of communication at the Ohio Restaurant Association. "Of course, any business that supports the green movement is moving in a very desirable direction for the country."

pizza fusionGlasper noted the activities of the Danis family, which owns Vino Vino and Figlio restaurants in Columbus and Dayton and recently began recycling waste and purchasing local produce. The Danis family also has purchased energy credits to offset their restaurants' use of fuels.

Other chains catching onto the trend include Organic To Go, spreading along the West Coast out of Seattle, and Ufood, which is beginning to move into the Northeast and southern California, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a national restaurant consulting firm based in Chicago.

A chain called Burgerville in the Pacific Northwest uses windmills to power its stores, Tristano said.

"Everybody feels better about it."

Food from these outlets will cost more than from traditional restaurants.

"Those who are health-minded are going to be willing to pay more," Tristano said. "But the McDonald's customer will continue to go to McDonald's for price."

Pizza Fusion's Romano was brought into the group because of his franchising credentials, having led such efforts for firms including Sign-O-Rama.

He has acquired commitments for 58 new pizza shops, some of which will be company-owned.

Drs. Gray and Wende Goncz of Pittsburgh are developers for the area that includes central Ohio.
Their first restaurant is scheduled to open in Pittsburgh's Gibsonia suburb on March 1. Gray Goncz notes with pride that it will be the first LEED-certified restaurant in Pennsylvania. The acronym stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and that certification is considered among the most difficult to attain.

Noting that he has two young sons whom he wants see grow up healthy, Goncz said he and his wife began to move toward organic food and awareness of green initiatives as they were looking for investment opportunities.

One of the things he realized was that people might not take steps to preserve the Earth because it wasn't easy.

"These restaurants make it convenient for people to go green or be eco-conscious," he said. "Now it's as easy as picking up a phone and ordering a pizza."

The stores generally fit into 2,400 square feet and can make use of existing buildings, Gordon said, although that requires extensive retrofitting.

Diners will be able to eat in or request delivery. Each franchise will run a small fleet of hybrid vehicles for that reason.

Parts of this article originally appeared in The Columbus Dispatch
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