Here, Pizza Fusion owner Vaughan Lazar explains what it means to run a certified organic restaurant and introduces Pizza Fusion's new School Organic Pizza Fridays program, which aims to bring healthy, organic food to schools.
Q: Pizza Fusion's flagship store in Fort Lauderdale is certified as an organic food handler. How does this distinguish Pizza Fusion from other restaurants?
A: We believe that being certified organic shows our existing and potential customers that we have integrity in what we do, and that we are willing to go the extra mile so they can be assured that the pizza we make is produced in a manner they can trust
Q: What steps does Pizza Fusion have to take to maintain its organic certification?
A: Most people think that the organic certification begins and ends with food, but is in fact a much more rigorous program, which is why we are going this route for all of our stores in the near future. We keep detailed records of all of our food purchases. This allows for complete transparency into the point of origin for every item in the restaurant. On any given day, we know exactly where every ingredient came from. We also keep detailed records of our, cleaning and sanitation procedures, as well as our staff training procedures. We work closely with our certifier to ensure that we are complying with organic standards. Plus, we undergo a yearly third-party inspection and random inspection(s) throughout the calendar year to maintain our organic certification.
Q: For the last few years, Pizza Fusion has been focused on having its franchises become LEED certified. The company has recently shifted its focus to organic certification. What is the motivation behind this shift?
A: We always knew that we wanted to serve fresh, healthy organic food with as little impact on the environment as possible, and while building our first restaurant, we saw so much opportunity to improve upon a VERY wasteful industry. Because partner Michael and I were not restaurateurs, we were able to approach the entire building process with an "eyes wide open" approach. We looked at the entire process very holistically, from the time orders came in to the time of delivery, and asked ourselves if there were better ways of doing things. At the time, there were no real guidelines to follow for the restaurant industry as to what was "green" and what wasn't, and the LEED program was the most detailed that we knew of so we adopted that for the foundation of our building principles and guidelines. We have never stopped building to LEED certification standards, but have shifted our focus and energy to having our restaurants certified organic as Organic Food Handling facilities. Since we are in the food business, it is an obvious fit for several reasons. We believe that it shows our customers our commitment to serving the healthiest, purest food in a clean facility.
Q: Pizza Fusion also recently launched the School Organic Pizza Fridays program. How does this program work and how many schools are currently involved in it?
A: Each individual Pizza Fusion restaurant owner works with their local school principals, administrators and Parent-Teacher Association members to create a customized program that fits each school's unique needs.
For example, some schools like to use the Pizza Fusion program not only as a way to give the children great tasting, yet healthy lunches, but also to help raise money for important school programs and supplies. Parents will donate $5 for the Friday lunches and half of the value will go back to the school. In other instances, Pizza Fusion will provide lunch for the flat fee and coordinate the logistics such as day and time to bring the food.
We currently have school lunch programs in over 50% of our restaurants, but we are working with our other restaurants to help them facilitate the logistics and we expect that almost all will be partnering with their schools by the end of the year.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to help provide children's favorite foods in the most fresh, natural and healthy way possible. And we’re thrilled that schools and parents are responding with such enthusiasm.
Q: Why do you feel it is important to make organic available in schools?
A: It seems that every day there is new research proving the importance of eating organic foods. This is especially relevant to children who are smaller in size and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of synthetic chemicals.
I think, primarily, we need to simply serve more "healthy meals" in our schools. We need to make sure that all children have access to healthy food at school to grow as healthy and strong as possible. We feel strongly at Pizza Fusion that the best way to do this is to provide children with organic food that is made without the use of harmful chemicals and synthetic hormones. Our hope is to help children and their families have great food that is great for you.
About Vaughan Lazar
Vaughan Lazar is a change agent and eco-entrepreneur who is the President and Co-Founder of Pizza Fusion, a national chain of organic restaurants that are highly regarded for their sustainability efforts. He plays an intricate role with the marketing, communications, and environmental stewardship of Pizza Fusion as well as the creative direction, branding, and strategic positioning of the chain. His environmental vision for Pizza Fusion has been considered trail-blazing for the restaurant industry and has garnered Pizza Fusion the title of the “Greenest Restaurant in America” by several publications and organizations. Vaughan currently sits on the board of the National Restaurant Association’s “Conserve Action Council” along with executives from brands like Starbucks, Chipotle, Subway, and McDonalds. He is considered an industry expert in restaurant sustainability and resource conservation and was recently featured in a documentary on The Sundance Channel on restaurant sustainability.
In 2008 Vaughan co-founded The Little Sprout Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps develop environmental education programs for children. Their “Green Bikes for Tikes” yearly fundraiser has been a huge success by repurposing donated bicycles to be gifted to under-privileged children. He also contributes a significant amount of his time and resources to assist Autism Speaks, The Leukemia Lymphoma Society and The Surfrider Foundation. He also is the co-founder of The Fusion Extreme Team as well as a Director of the Shaun Foley Foundation providing culinary scholarships to the Culinary Institute of America.
Vaughan recently joined the South Florida Green Drinks’ board of directors and is currently serving on the steering and planning committee of The Wyland Green Living Fair. He is also on the planning committee for the restaurant industry’s annual “Fast Casual Executive Summit”. He is an active member of The Organic Trade Association, Slow Food USA, Green America and The USGBC.
Originally from Newport, Rhode Island, Vaughan attended Florida Atlantic University and has been a resident of Boca Raton, Florida for 18 years. When he’s not chasing waves and snowboarding, you can find him running marathons or working on his organic garden.
Prior to his life at Pizza Fusion, Vaughan co-founded a boutique design and marketing firm, Stellar Concepts & Design, where he served as their Chief Marketing Officer and Creative Director. Some of their clients included Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Yamaha, The Superbowl, Versace and Pizza Fusion.