Customers, employees upset over Zpizza eviction

Zpizza, whose Laguna Beach roots are integral to its brand, is set to be evicted from its original location, which opened in 1986.

After a five-year lease option wasn't exercised, the founding pizza shop — known for its artisan style and healthy ingredients — was told it had 30 days, until April 16, to leave the space it's held for 26 years at 30902 Coast Hwy.

Irvine-based Zpizza now has locations in 17 states and in Vietnam, Mexico and the Middle East. There are several Orange County locations, and a new concept, Zcafe, recently opened in South Coast Plaza.

The outcry over the eviction has been emotional for the home-grown pizza company, whose website boasts its arts colony home and the importance of creativity and craftsmanship.

Carol Sheridan, 66, said she comes to Zpizza every Tuesday and brings the pizzas to her son and his co-workers at LED lighting store Cerno down the street.

"They yell out 'Zpizza is here!' when I get there," she said.

Briana Rubow, 18, said she enjoys Zpizza's location in South Laguna and was concerned it would be hard to find another space in the city.

Zpizza founder and location owner Sid Fanarof, a Laguna resident, said he wishes someone would have personally called him or come down to the location to make sure he received the letter of intent to renew the lease, which both parties agreed was communicated via email.

Stephen Robertson, chairman of Shelter Bay Retail Group, which manages the center, said that "nothing is too late" and he wants to work with Zpizza. When it comes down to it, lease agreements need to be in writing, and he said attempts to contact Fanarof went without response until unfortunately it was too late.

"He had a five-year option that he could have exercised. He chose not to," Robertson said.

Fanarof's lease expired June 30, the letter of intent went out in early July and the office didn't hear back until mid-September, Robertson said.

The landlord hired a broker to find tenants for the Zpizza space and the Walsh Flooring space.

"By the time Mr. Fanarof got back to us, that process was way down the track," he said. "That was explained to Mr. Fanarof immediately in fairness to him."

The landlord had entered into legal obligations with the future tenant, Chase Bank, and Robertson said they can't do anything about the space at this point, unless Chase decides it does not want the space.

"I have been in conversation with Mr. Fanarof indicating we'd love to keep him as a tenant," he said. "If anything happens to cause the deal with Chase Bank to fail, then we'd negotiate."

Robertson wanted to make it clear that Chase Bank was approached to be a tenant, not vice versa, and it isn't to blame in the situation.

He is open to putting Zpizza in another space in the shopping center, but it is 100% occupied right now.

Fanarof said Zpizza is looking at other possible locations in Laguna, but the costs of opening at a new space would be high.

Manager Amy Fitch created a petition to keep Zpizza that was placed on the front counter. On Tuesday, it had about 15 signatures from residents.

Fitch was friendly with customers Tuesday, pointing at a child and his mother enjoying the pizza — the boy was smiling, with marinara sauce on his hands and face.

"That's what this is about," she said.

The closure would come right before the summer season, the location's busiest time, she said.

Some of the cook staff has been at the pizzeria before its name was known around the world. Demetrio Mendoza, kitchen manager, has been with the location for 21 years.

"You don't want to leave your home," Fanarof said. "To lose that connection to our town would be emotionally devastating."

joanna.clay@latimes.com

Twitter: @joannaclay

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