By Catherine Hathaway
Going out to eat has become less of a caloric indulgence with the surge of fresh, healthy dining options that cater to various dietary restrictions. Although some restaurants may feature a light menu, Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen has made a commitment to be “healthitarians” and serve 90% to 95% organic produce while creating menu options that are healthy, tasty and accommodate gluten-free diners.
Rick Freedman founded Picazzo’s in Sedona in 2002 when he saw the need for a nice pizza place in the growing area. In 2004, the restaurant expanded into the Valley and opened its Scottsdale Airpark location.
“The market was starting to get a little competitive,” says Chris Disney, the operations manager. “A gourmet pizza place wasn’t as special as it had been. We started looking into cleaner food.”
The company reevaluated what makes it unique from its new saturated market of competitors. The business built off of its already-popular gluten-free pizza crust when it opened its Paradise Valley location in 2008.
“It was a takeover of an old Italian restaurant, so the kitchen was set up to have pasta and pizza, and so we added pasta,” Disney says of the Paradise Valley location. “And we needed to be gluten free because we have a gluten-free pizza, and we offer those options.”
Moving toward full Italian options was Picazzo’s turning point. It pioneered offering a full menu of gluten-free options for people to choose traditionally gluten-filled dishes without fear.
“Usually those carb-heavy menu items are full gluten, so we became known as that place people could eat gluten free an entire menu with the exception of one pizza option in case people come in and they want that gluten option,” Disney says.
As it appealed more and more to the gluten-free customers, Picazzo’s saw an opening to provide options for other types of dietary restrictions, including soy, GMO, corn, dairy and veganism.
“It became an allergy thing, and we continued to look at our menu,” Disney says. “It’s a constant microscope at our ingredients.”
What sets Picazzo’s apart from the other restaurants is its commitment to providing the best food and having the most organic menu possible, Disney says.
“Nobody else is doing anything like this,” Disney says. “You have places that are doing healthy (entrees) and salads, but they’re not buying organic. There are very few doing as much organic as we are. I know because on the back end I can see the ingredients in some of the products these restaurants are ordering. I know we really make an effort.”
Picazzo’s has also made a commitment to its vegan customers. It offers a full vegan menu with options that don’t sacrifice health or taste. Vegans can order hearty meals like its “Chik’n” Parmesan ($22.50) or signature pizzas ($15 to $25) while sticking to their dietary needs.
“It’s a clean approach to allergens,” Disney says. “It’s not just pumped with a bunch of chemicals. A lot of vegan products are trying to mimic fast food. It seems so counterproductive to what it should be.”
Staying 90% to 95% organic is vital to Picazzo’s. It values that extra level of healthy, good foods for its customers—and its customers have responded. In uncertain times, like the recession or COVID-19, Picazzo’s remained popular by offering dishes its customers couldn’t get anywhere else.
“To have that as an expense is much higher,” Disney says. “It’s a challenge, but it’s kind of been our lifeline to have these options. We were pioneers in that realm. It brought in an entire new clientele.”
Customers don’t have to be allergic to soy or gluten intolerant to dine at Picazzo’s. Disney says many people aren’t aware of all the health-conscious decisions and just come to enjoy the unique pizzas, like the hot honey, fig and salami pizza ($20/$30) or elote ($19/$29).
“We definitely get that,” Disney says. “That normal demographic. People who don’t have any restrictions; they just want their food. People come in and think we’re just typical Italian and then we have people who come in and appreciate it for what it is.”
Picazzo’s has started adding a label designating a food “keto friendly” for customers who subscribe to that diet. Keto diners can order mouth-watering meals like baked brie with housemade focaccia ($13.95) or bianca pasta with grilled chicken on top of fusilli noodles and alfredo sauce ($18.95).
Round out the meal at Picazzo’s with gluten-free and vegan desserts like its New York-style “Cheezecake” with housemade raspberry sauce ($8.95) or what it claims to be Arizona’s only gluten-free tiramisu ($8.95).
Disney says Picazzo’s has a goal of building a larger vegan menu with recognizable options. He says he’s already working on a flavorful mushroom risotto. He says the business also hopes to expand out of state to offer its unique menu at more locations.
Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen
7325 E. Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, Scottsdale