In Z Pizza kitchen with Z grand chef

"It's not a crust; it's a canvas."

In 1986, the day before the first Z Pizza was to open, the

charming and very chatty Sid Fanaroff said that he and his then

partner Suzie Megroz still hadn't figured out how to make dough in

quantity. She had told him that she knew how to make pizza, but it

was really pastry dough for a French onion tart -- which looks like a

little pizza. When the giant dough mixer and oven were finally in

place, Sid experimented with the recipe that came with the mixer. It

didn't work! Endless variations also failed and brought him to the

point of extreme frustration. He finally threw a wad of dough against

the wall and abandoned the rest in the mixer.

There it remained until the arrival of their knowledgeable and

upbeat food supplier who found the partners quite dejected. "What's

the problem? There's nothing wrong with this dough," he said,

removing the dough from the wall and proceeding to make a pizza and

bake it. It was delicious. In fact, it was the best they'd ever

tasted!

What they hadn't realized, with their total lack of experience,

was that the dough needed to rise before baking.

Also, one of those fortuitous accidents occurred that often happen

in the food business. Purchasing their basic ingredients in quantity,

they bought dry yeast instead of wet, unaware that dry is twice as

potent. The happy result of their ignorance was a lighter dough that

became their signature.

One problem solved, countless more to follow. The food business

was in Sid Fanarof's blood. As a child, he was told that his

grandfather in Berlin was in the poultry and ice cream business. When

old enough to be intrigued by this conundrum, he asked, "Well, which

was it"?

"Chicken in the winter and ice cream in the summer," his

grandfather said. There was no demand for geese and ducks when the

weather was hot, but everybody wanted ice cream.

Sid's parent's escaped Hitler's Europe in 1939. His father was a

cook in the U.S. army and after the war opened a deli and catering

business in Boyle Heights. At 10, Sid was bussing tables and working

the cash register. At 20, he captained the catering staff at parties.

Attempting to find his own way, he and his brother opened an

innovative optometry business with a celebrity clientele. He also

dabbled in real estate.

An early mid-life crisis, precipitated in part by the death of two

young friends, led him to take an enormous risk and relocate to

Laguna Beach, a place that was special to him, even as a child. As an

adult, it represented a more bohemian life style which was laid back

and creative. He took a job at Nolan Real Estate and eventually

bought Spigot Liquor which he transformed into a "beach store,"

bringing in higher quality food, beer and wine.

He sold it for a healthy profit and began looking for a new

challenge that would be an outlet for his bursting creative energy. A

serendipitous confluence of opportunities then occurred. One of his

ideas was to open a healthy Mexican restaurant using fresh

ingredients. Running into his former wine saleswoman, Suzie, he

mentioned this idea. She said she had owned a restaurant in Provence

and was interested in a partnership, but was imagining a French cafe.

Neither of them were thinking pizza.

A friend took him to see a restaurant that was for sale. The

owner, Nick, was the pizza version of the "Soup Nazi" but he made

fabulous pizza and had a tremendous base of loyal customers. Sid had

a pizza epiphany. He was so impressed by people's passionate devotion

to the product they loved, that he decided his future was in pizza.

An extremely persuasive talker, Sid finally got Suzie to say, "OK,

I can do that."

Sid's real estate savvy then led him to an available storefront in

the Albertson's shopping center. His artistic design vision led to

the creation of a new modern look for a pizza place while Suzie's

French background gave it a certain cache. In addition, she happened

to know two out-of-work French chefs who were delighted to get a job

working in the kitchen.

Then came the Pepperoni Wars, during which they struggled to blend

their concepts. The result was a health conscious, handmade gourmet

pizza. Sid got his Mexican pizza with spicy lime chicken, salsa,

avocado and sour cream and Suzie got her Mediterranean with pesto,

sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers, eggplant, olives and feta cheese.

Suzie's French accent was inadvertently responsible for the name

of the business. She was always saying, "zee pizza ziss, and zee

pizza zat." After endless processing sessions, in which she pushed

for Pissisimo, Sid said, "Why don't we just call it Z Pizza. I can't

pronounce Pissisimo!"

Thus, a local landmark was born. Many creative pizzas later, Suzie

and Sid parted ways. Five years after that, as Z was growing slowly,

a customer, Chris Bright, who was in the franchise business,

approached Sid with the idea of expanding Z Pizza nationally. Five

years later, working as a team, Chris has been responsible for

franchising it across the country. Now there are 50 stores in

operation and 150 in development. A new design concept with it's

flagship store will have it's grand opening next year in Laguna.

Sid says: "'It's not a crust, it's a canvas.' That's our motto and

it reflects Laguna's creative atmosphere. Z Pizza couldn't have been

born anywhere else. My job now, as the company grows larger, is to

keep the integrity of the product as it was conceived."

When asked what he plans for the future, he is full of ideas: a

totally different restaurant concept; a Watsu Healing Center in the

Canyon; and more community and charity work. Sid loves the creative

side of business but not the running of it and has a similar

philosophy when it comes to cooking. He loves to shop, but not really

to cook. With that in mind, here is one of his favorite recipes.

PORTOBELLO MUSHROOM RAVIOLI WITH ARTICHOKE LEMON PESTO

This is really easy, especially if you get someone else to wash

the dishes. Serves 4

2 packages Trader Joe's Giant Portobello Mushroom Ravioli

1 container Trader Joes Artichoke Lemon Pesto

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

1. Go to Trader Joe's and buy ingredients

2. Cook ravioli according to package directions. Drain

3. Toss with remaining ingredients.

VARIATIONS from Terry and Elle

Add the grated zest of one lemon.

Thin pesto with 3 tablespoon of hot pasta cooking water.

Add 1/2 cup warmed edamame beans or asparagus tips.

Garnish with shredded basil.

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