At first, Pizza Fusion seems like a regular pizza joint. When I walk in and order my pie, a chef named J-Mo says he'll bring it right out. Only when he slides the bamboo peel across the counter made from reused soda-bottle chunks does my visit start to seem a bit unique. My entree, a pesto-and-walnut pizza, wasn't thawed out and "assembled." J-Mo himself kneaded the multigrain dough from scratch that morning, slathered on the locally grown, organic basil pesto, and sprinkled chopped nuts on top of the cheese. Pizza Fusion is a nationwide chain dedicated to saving the environment, one slice of pizza at a time. It uses food to build relationships among people, their fuel and the Earth.
Everything about the organic restaurant chain seems inside-out from the typical franchise model. For one thing, every scrap of material constructing the restaurant I visited came from within 500 miles of its home in Gibsonia, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. For another, each franchise shop (there are now more than 16 around the country) orders ingredients not from a central distributor or a frozen-foods warehouse, but from organic, usually local farms. The Gibsonia location has a rough time finding local produce in the winter, but always gets its meats from a natural butcher a few miles up the road. General manager Justin Lubecki likes the idea that he sells meat from cows raised eating the same grass his customers walk around on.
The resulting menu items have one significant difference from most fast-food joints: a lack of uniformity. For example, "Our pesto is Pittsburgh pesto," Lubecki says. "It will be the same recipe as the Houston pesto, but we use local basil. It's got a local flavor unique to our city." The use of fresh, organic ingredients and the wide variety of vegan and gluten-free meals draws customers from hours away to the tiny shop built to LEED-certification standards. Lubecki claims some customers with gluten allergies have been known to cry upon eating his pizzas, which taste worlds better than the cardboard they're used to eating.
Tears of joy are perhaps the best thing a restaurateur could hope for in the dining room, and Pizza Fusion, fast-food chain though it may be, is indeed a restaurant. Diners sit upon soy-filled cushions in a naturally lit space, enjoying actual silverware and cloth napkins as they munch their food from bamboo plates and drink from real glasses. Such finery would seem out of place at competing pizza chains, but Lubecki is quick to remind me that his is a green business. "We're not just sitting around saying, 'What can make us more profitable?'" he says, "We want to stay in business, but we're also thinking about what can make us more environmentally friendly and what we can do to support the local economy and better impact the world."
So why would a group of inspired planeteers choose pizza as their medium for change? "Pizza is America's favorite food!" Lubecki says. "If you want to change the world, pizza is the first product you should think of." He waves his arms around the dining room, pointing toward the diverse crowd eating and reading the informational signs on the walls, which teach customers about things like wind energy, low-flow toilets and Energy Star appliances. "People come in here because they just want pizza, but they get influenced by our environmental work anyway."
Everything Pizza Fusion does — from deliveries in company-owned hybrid cars to restrooms stocked with post-consumer recycled toilet tissue — helps create demand for Earth-friendly products and teaches customers about the enjoyable aspects of sustainable habits. As the pizzeria integrates into the local economy, it also adheres to the lifestyles of its regulars and leads the way for conscious eaters everywhere.