Pizza Fusion and Chain-Scale Sustainability


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In the quickly growing world of sustainable, local, organic healthy food, "chain" is something of a dirty word. Ever since I left the suburb where I grew up, I've turned my nose up at most restaurants that require their servers to wear corporate-regulated flair, for example, or that serve iceberg lettuce. And I'm not ashamed of my snobbishness. Ubiquitous chain restaurants, which often serve culturally bland food in identical branded settings, stifle the potential charm and uniqueness of many neighborhoods.

But in seeking a sustainable world, is the answer to eliminate the problem entirely, or to re-imagine the chain business model in a way that's respectably sustainable? Last week, a few of us from the Worldchanging office had lunch at a new Capitol Hill outpost of a chain that's trying – and, in many ways, succeeding – at changing the chain paradigm for the better.

Pizza Fusion, which opened recently on the ground floor of the Trace Lofts on 12th Ave. between Madison and Pike, is the 9th working location in a Florida-based chain that's growing at breakneck speed (there are already 11 more at various stages of startup development around the country).

To be sure, the buzzword-loaded marketing surrounding Pizza Fusion -- Fresh. Organic. Earth Friendly; Saving the Earth, One Pizza at a Time. -- had me primed for some impressive greenwashing. I had a long conversation with the franchise co-owner, Kevin York, to see what "walking the walk" means for a chain establishment.

Though a longtime entrepreneur, York admits he's a newcomer to the world of sustainable business. He credits his 8-year-old daughter, the self-appointed recycling czar of his household, with inspiring him to change his thinking. When we met, he proudly rattled off the list of green accomplishments. Among the most visible boasting points: the building is LEED certified (Washington state's first restaurant to earn the distinction), delivery orders are transported via bike, scooter and hybrid, and there's a monthly free "organics" class for kids (the Capitol Hill location will start this up in January).

There's the slightly less obvious: Most of the furnishings, including the tables, chairs and hardwood floor, were salvaged from local institutions including the Sunset Bowl and Garfield High School. And the all-organic menu includes many options for vegetarians, vegans and those who can't tolerate gluten or dairy.

Finally, there are sustainability points even below the surface: the chain offsets its carbon emissions with wind power certificates, and offers benefits to full-time employees.

One thing that impressed us most was the freedom that Pizza Fusion allows its franchise owners. York told us that many of the building and decorating materials he selected are unique to his restaurant, and sourced in Seattle. Though the slick interior design still includes clear nods to HQ, the local materials and salvage do a lot to preserve character. York also has the option to look locally for ingredients and menu items if he chooses. He has already added Molly Moon ice creams and sorbets, which are made in Wallingford using organic, Washington-produced ingredients, to his dessert list. And he earnestly listened and noted our suggestions for sourcing more of his vegetables and other ingredients from Washington farmers. We liked his willingness to admit he's still learning, and his open attitude toward make changes to the restaurant as he goes.

Could Pizza Fusion be a precursor to a wave of more sustainable large-scale businesses? As the now-modest chain continues to grow in size and scope, we'll have to keep an eye on it to see whether "sustainable" and "mass" can find a long-term happy medium.

Photo credit: Pizza Fusion

Comments

I would like to where he sources his pizza dough and if it is organic? Thanks.

Posted by: Lexie Kupers on November 29, 2008 6:00 AM

Dear Lexie,
Thank you for your interest in Pizza Fusion. I came across your post and wanted to offer you the courtesy of a first hand answer to your inquiry. At Pizza Fusion we make our dough from scratch at the restaurant on a daily basis. Yes, it is organic. We use all organic ingredients in both our white crust and also our extra delicious multi-grain crust.
Sustainably Yours,
Kevin York - Pizza Fusion Seattle

Posted by: Kevin York on December 7, 2008 11:56 PM

A couple years ago LEED launched its "portfolio" program with intentions of making it easier to achieve LEED certification for multiple buildings matching the same prototype. While a fine idea, LEED is still very rigorous and it can be costly for owners. I haven't heard about many others taking advantage of this program...

Posted by: Scott Schreffler on December 8, 2008 12:44 PM

This is a most impressive report, and so am very interested in visting Pizza Fusion very soon! Congratulations to the local onwer on bringing this novel approach of quality fast food to Seattle. It is refreshing to learn of this new outlet for high quality and healthy pizza.

One question: Is the beverage list at Pizza Fusion as thoughtfully created as the development of the healthy quality pizzas?

This to me will be a real test of the overall philosophy of creating a holistically designed eatery. This mandates that as much deep attention must have been paid to the creation of the drink menu. The opportunity to have high quality and healthy beverages available is critically important. Most beverages sold in chain eateries everywhere are unhealthy, sugar filled (fructose corn syrup), full of chemicals and imitation flavors, and unordinary in addition to being not healthy. Imbibing these unhealthy items certainly does cancel out the benefits of the quality food served.

Thank you. Good luck.

Sincerely,

Peter Magurean III

Posted by: Peter Magurean III on December 11, 2008 9:00 PM

Dear Peter,

Thank you for the kind words and I look forward to your visit to Pizza Fusion. Our beverage menu consists of:
organic coffee & espresso (Grounds for Change, Poulsbo, WA)
organic hot teas (Yogi, Eugene,OR)
organic iced teas (Honest Tea) unsweetened Just black or Just Green
organic kids (Honest Kids Tropical Punch, Goodness Grape
Natural Oregon Spring Water
Boylans All Natural Sodas
organic beer (Elliott Bay Brewery, Seattle)
asst wines, organic & biodynamic

I hope this helps.

Many Thanks,
Kevin D York

Posted by: Kevin D York on December 19, 2008 2:08 PM

Just thought I would stop by to fill in the general public on where Pizza Fusion Seattle's "sustianable" business model is today. Though Pizza Fusion insists integrity is of utmost importance, the behavior of the Seattle franchise would indictate otherwise. On March 23rd Pizza Fusion Seattle closed it's doors with no prior warning to their employees. In a single e-mail, Kevin York informed employees that they would not be recieving their final paychecks. He has not been available for contact since. Many former employees are now left struggling to pay rent (the majority of employees were paid minimum wage) and find new work. So lets thank Mr.York for all he has brought to our community.

Pizza Fusion: Saving the Earth (and exploiting workers) one pizza at a time!


Posted by: Concerned Citizen on April 18, 2009 6:53 PM

Kevin,

I'm sorry that your business did not make it. I would like to talk to you about it and get some insights to what did work and what eventually led to the collapse. Please email me at clint.harris@mac.com

Posted by: Clint Harris on June 16, 2009 3:14 PM

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