Today, the health-focused franchise has more than 30 U.S. locations, and has expanded overseas to include dozens of international restaurants in countries like Dubai.
The rapid success of the brand since opening its first location in Deerfield Beach in 2006 was a mix of timing and luck, according to Pizza Fusion co-founder and CEO Vaughan Lazar, who spoke with Clean Plate Charlie recently about his plans to bring the first corporate-owned Pizza Fusion to Boca Raton.
According to Lazar, when the first Pizza Fusion opened in Deerfield Beach, it was a quaint 800-square-foot space that offered organic pizza for take-out and delivery by hybrid vehicle.
"At the time, there was really nothing else like [Pizza Fusion] in the area. No one cared about organic food then," said Lazar, a Rhode Island native who moved to Boca Raton 20 years ago. "And, because I have always been interested in living a healthy, organic lifestyle, there wasn't really anywhere else I could go to eat other than Whole Foods."
So the Florida Atlantic University graduate did something unexpected: he decided to leave his full-time gig at his design firm, and built the first Pizza Fusion alongside co-founder Michael Gordon. Together they quickly realized "what a wasteful industry the restaurant business could be," and decided to do something about it.
"That's what really motivated us. No one else was looking to address the issue [of approaching the restaurant industry from an environmental perspective], so we decided to be among the first," said Lazar. "Even though we weren't the pioneers of organic pizza, we were the first to offer organic pizza in South Florida."
To do so, that meant taking an eco-friendly, conservation-based approach to pizza-making, a process that included sourcing only local, organic ingredients, reducing water waste, using reclaimed building materials and sourcing recycled products wherever possible, including compostable pizza boxes.
Today, all Pizza Fusion locations are built to LEED Certification standards and have substantial elements of green building design incorporated in them. They also purchase Renewable Energy Certificates to mitigate each store's environmental footprint. Pies are made with mostly organic ingredients, and some locations offer delivery by hybrid vehicles, following in the footsteps of the first location. In addition, all Pizza Fusion employees wear organic cotton uniforms, and each store offers a discount on your order if you "return" your pizza box from a previous purchase.
The Pizza Fusion menu offers pizzas, focaccia sandwiches, wraps and salads made using mostly organic ingredients. Pizzas offer toppings like artichoke, wild-caught shrimp -- even organic New York strip steak.
When the pair started Pizza Fusion, Lazar said he and Gordon envisioned no more than one or two restaurant locations. With business booming in Deerfield Beach, they decided to begin buildout of a second store, what today stands as Pizza Fusion's first franchise location, its Fort Lauderdale restaurant. However, the decision to turn Pizza Fusion into the franchise chain it is today was not an easy call for Lazar, who said he was afraid the company would lose the values he and Gordon had set out to create.
"I thought, 'Absolutely not. Never,'" said Lazar, who later joined with current Pizza Fusion President Randy Romano to build the Pizza Fusion brand. "With a franchise, you fear that you'll lose all that you've worked to build. But, for this business, franchising turned out to be the only way we could keep the Pizza Fusion vision alive."
From a business perspective, growing the brand through franchising allowed for more money to go towards building new locations. It would also mean more green jobs, more restaurants sourcing locally-grown, organic ingredients, while also supplying an eco-friendly, healthy food to more people -- not just in Florida -- but now worldwide.
"When it came down to it, we really felt like we were saving the world, one pizza at a time," said Lazar.
Since then, Pizza Fusion has been named one of the "greenest businesses" by Green America, and continues to uphold doing things the green way. The franchise's mission remains the same: uphold the highest level of integrity in all they do, from the quality and origin of their food, to their care for the health of their customers and the environment.
To make sure things stay that way, Lazar has decided to bring the Pizza Fusion flagship corporate location to his home city, Boca Raton, where he also stands as co-owner of Kapow! Noodle Bar
in Mizner Park. The corporate-owned franchise will serve as a training center and test market, where the company will evaluate new menu developments, promotions and restaurant initiatives.
"The Boca Raton Pizza Fusion will have a different look and feel than any of our other locations," said Lazar, who plans to build a bar that will focus on organic wines, spirits, beer and soda. A location has yet to be determined, but the restaurant is expected to open later this year.
To learn more about Pizza Fusion, visit the company website and visit the restaurant Facebook page. The Naples location will open on Earth Day, April 22, at 2146 Tamiami Trail North in "The Gateway of Naples" shopping center near the organic market, Food & Thought.
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Charlie on Twitter and Nicole Danna @SoFloNicole