August 11, 2008

Zpizza Features Montana Wheat, Distinctive Varieties

By Buckley, Angie

If pizza were healthier, would you eat it every day?

Here's your chance.

Zpizza, a California-based franchise, opened July 1 at 1430 Country Manor Blvd., not too far from where Grand Avenue meets Shiloh Road Featuring healthful ingredients, including organic tomato sauce and crusts made from Montana wheat, the pizzas are among the gourmet options available at the restaurant, along with salads, pasta and sandwiches.

"Zpizza creations," the restaurant's signature pizzas, feature original topping combinations that pizza lovers might not otherwise encounter. The Moroccan pizza lays on pesto, mozzarella, roasted eggplant, feta cheese and pine nuts. Among the other options are Napoli, Berkeley soy cheese veggie, Casablanca, Santa Fe and Thai pizzas.

But if classic pepperoni is the only pizza for you, the MSG-free pepperoni and low-fat mozzarella will save calories, fat grams, sodium and sugar in comparison to the fare other popular chains.

Franchisee Rohnn Lampi of Aspen Way Restaurants Inc., a division of Aspen Way Cos., is the developer of Zpizza in Billings and hopes to begin looking for a second location for the franchise in September. Focusing on Bozeman or Billings, depending on real estate prices and availability, Lampi is just beginning his venture into the Zpizza company. He is contracted to build five more locations within five years but hopes to have 20 to 25 in a decade.

Zpizza is the first tenant of its strip mall home, built by Hakes Construction. Located among several newer businesses on the West End, the company tends to profit most with delivery and catering sales. But in its first two weeks, Lampi's Billings location is already doing more dine-in business than other restaurants in the chain.

The Billings location is larger than most Zpizzas. With 28 seats inside and another 16 outside, the restaurant's 1,500 square feet is extended with an outdoor patio. The restaurant was company-financed and holds a wine and beer license.

Lampi began exploring the restaurant business about a year ago. His first selection was stymied by the unavailability of liquor licenses in Billings. Heeding a suggestion to check out Zpizza, Lampi went to Southern California to check out the company. And at the first bite, he decided this was the venture for him.

"We were just blown away by the quality of food. We thought it was so good and it would work well here," he said.

Though Zpizza used Montana winter wheat in its crusts long before a Billings location was established, the region isn't well- populated by the chain. More than 80 restaurants are open nationally, mostly in the Southern California, Phoenix, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., areas. But with 300 of the stores in progress. Zpizza may soon become better known around the country.

Zpizza is currently open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Lampi is aiming for longer hours but is allowing the staff to get more experienced before extending hours. The hours are flexible, though, as he assures that no one will be turned away at 9 p.m.

Lampi expects to host a grand opening for the store in August. Already, Zpizza has exceeded expectations for the first few weeks. For delivery and catering service, the store can be reached at 839- 9333.

Copyright Billings Gazette Jul 20, 2008

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