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starting up a Pizza franchise for organic Pizza

Page history last edited by PBworks 11 years, 12 months ago





Pizza Fusion aims to save Earth




Two years ago on Valentine's Day, two Florida Atlantic University business school buddies were having lunch, complaining about their miserable, soul-less jobs, when they had one of those ideas that would ultimately shape their destiny.


Forgo their reliable paychecks and open a pizza joint.


But this wouldn't be just any pizza palace. It would be one in keeping with the times -- an organic, earth-sustaining franchise that delivered its pizza pies in hybrid cars and would eventually become the nation's first chain of organic pizzerias.


Two years after opening Pizza Fusion in Deerfield Beach, Michael Gordon and Vaughan Lazar have sold 55 franchises in eight states, with a new Weston store that is certified as meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.



''We thought about creating a concept that was all about doing better and more, and pizza turned out to be the instrument,'' said Gordon, a seasoned entrepreneur who for a time had owned his own candle store before going into real estate holdings. At the time of the idea for the pizzeria, Lazar was running his own printing and design firm.


''It was one of those stupid conversations. We can do this, being narcissistic and all,'' Gordon said. ``We didn't know how difficult it was.''


For some perspective, consider this: Nationally, there are about 65,000 pizzerias, making the market highly saturated, said Pizza Today editor-in-chief Jeremy White. Restaurant industry estimates put the failure rate at somewhere between 60 percent and 80 percent.


''It's a risky proposition to open a restaurant,'' White said.


A furious four months followed that Valentine's Day lunch, as the two put together the concept -- ''Saving the Earth, one pizza at a time'' -- and secured the financial backing to open their first store.


The most difficult part, said Lazar, was solving the logistical nightmare of obtaining enough organic food from local farmers to run the restaurants.

''We had 18 distributors when we started,'' he said.


Ultimately, they settled on United Natural Foods and its sister company, Albert's Organics, which handles produce, meat and cheeses.



Next the pair had to work on selling consumers on both their pizzas and their business model, Lazar said.


'Our second challenge was educating people on what `organics' is and what it is to be a green business and trying not to put the mission before the food,'' he said. ``People don't like to chew on a mission.''


Because market studies can be so costly, they sought locations already scouted out by Whole Foods Market, the supermarket chain that made organic an everyday convenience.


''Obviously, they did the demographic studies that we can't afford, [showing] that there was a market there to support organics,'' Lazar said. ``Their distribution was already set up, and we could just jump on that.''



They also hired an expert in traditional pizzerias: ''Big Dave'' Ostrander, who ran his own pizza joint in Michigan for 25 years and has written four books on the industry. He also coached the U.S. Pizza Team to a silver medal at the World Championships in 2003. Ostrander, who was initially wary of the whole green thing, gave them a two-week crash course on the pizza industry and its potential for generating impressive revenue. (The top-earning independent pizza restaurant, Amid's East Coast Pizzeria in San Mateo, Calif., raked in $30 million in gross sales in 2006, according to Pizza Today.)


''It's a very big tossup when you go green and turn the cost of the concept over to your customers. I had immediate reservations,'' Ostrander said. ``I was freaked out the first time they brought a $10 or $11 steak into the restaurant and a $4 pepper. I said we're going to have a hard time making ends meet.''


But Gordon and Lazar were adamant, and after Ostrander spent several days in South Florida, he, too, became convinced that customers would pay more (the cost is about 20 percent higher) for organic food.


''I deal almost exclusively with indies -- chains have guys like me who do the trouble shooting -- and for an indie to do well and grow so well is amazing,'' he said. ``It's phenomenal, actually.''


Within three weeks of opening, Gordon said, they received an offer of $1 million to buy a 25 percent stake in the company -- an offer they rejected.



As for the latest Pizza Fusion franchise, Kris Adam was an unlikely candidate to open it: Adam had a lucrative career selling Porsches. But as a convert to organic eating, he had become more concerned about the environment and his own legacy.


''You kind of get tired of the excess and of people who care more about their Porsches than the environment they leave behind,'' he said. ``I wanted to do something that mattered a little more to the planet and something with a little more depth.''


Running an organic restaurant was one thing. Building a store that was earth-friendly was a whole other challenge, he said.


His energy-efficient air-conditioner had to be specially ordered and took two months to arrive. He eventually found soy-based paint locally, but few had heard of it when he first asked. He used recycled blue jeans for insulation and built countertops from recycled detergent bottles. He also did much of the work himself, pouring his own concrete and building a slate rock wall.


He estimates the cost of environmentally-sound building at about 10 percent more than conventional, but he expects to fully recoup the money through savings on electricity costs over time.


''OK, say it cost an extra 40 grand, but [consider] the amount of energy you save every month, and I have a 10-year lease,'' Adam explained.



Although White said the social and financial benefits of going green have largely been ignored by the restaurant industry, that's starting to change as organic food and environmental issues gain support.


The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, a nonprofit industry trade association with about 10,000 members, is just now developing a program on green tactics, said spokeswoman Jennifer Garner.


''With the green lodging program, it's becoming very popular and restaurants are really catching on,'' she said. ``We're really looking at starting with the basics and doing things that just conserve energy.''


Pizza Fusion expects to open about 50 LEED-certified stores in seven states and expects pizza-eaters to eagerly jump on the green wagon.


''There are two ways to run a business, and we've chosen to do it the socially conscious way,'' Gordon said. ``How many people know when they eat a pizza where the tomatoes come from? I can tell you within two cross streets where our tomatoes come from.''




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