ZPizza is known for its health-conscious pizzas, salads and sandwiches and its founder brought the same sensibility to the new restaurant.
The menu shows creativity on the part of Fanarof and his team — fire-roasted baba ghannouj as an appetizer followed by salads, such as quinoa tabbouleh, asparagus and celery root, and arugula tossed with homemade ricotta cheese.
However, the delicious, healthy, artisan pizza that ZPizza is known for still holds a place on the menu with interesting combinations, such as chicken sausage and apple, Moroccan and Laguna Beach vegan, paying homage to the brand's roots.
At 68 years old, the Laguna Beach resident joked that he was on the brink of retirement. When longtime ZPizza customer Anton Segerstrom told him about the space at South Coast Plaza he oversees, it offered up a creative challenge that Fanarof could not refuse.
They created the concept in 90 days — renovating the space, hiring a team and creating a menu.
It was a family affair, said Fanarof, whose wife, Claire, helped and son Joseph contributed vibrant photographs of succulents to don the walls.
"We finished the menu two weeks prior to opening," he said.
Fanarof reached out to the Culinary Art Institute in Santa Ana, looking for a young chef to help him on the new venture.
Recent graduate Galen Duckles, 29, applied for the head chef job on a whim, never thinking he would get it.
Fanarof invited Duckles to his home, where they whipped up some food, proving that he was the right guy for the fresh, environmentally conscious eatery.
Duckles' thoughtfulness shows in the kitchen, where he creates ricotta from scratch, makes his own salad dressings and pickles vegetables.
"When you feel good about feeding people … nothing is better than that," Duckles said.
The chef also mentioned that ZCafe wants to be conscious about everything, not just the food.
He pointed out that ZCafe uses organic products, nitrate-free meats and all natural chicken. Even the to-go boxes are made from corn.
Two weeks after its official opening, Fanarof said he "couldn't be happier with the reaction."
As for another ZCafe in the works, he said he takes things one day at a time.
Where: 333 Bear Street, suite 316, South Coast Plaza
Information: (714) 545-5500 or zcafe.biz
Price range: $4.95 to $16.95