Although there are 11 Guido’s Pizza branches spanning Southern Michigan, the pizzeria in Okemos offers something no other location does: gluten-free pizza.
According to co-owner Steve Pollard, a tasty gluten-free pizza is hard to come by — an important item for this Okemos Guido’s co-owner, since mother cannot come into contact with gluten products because she has celiac disease.
In fact, Pollard put a year into developing the perfect recipe for the challenge. He said he searched far and wide for the proper ingredients and taste-tested his fair share of tasteless frozen pizzas.
“Everything that I came across was terrible — with a spongy, rubberish taste, which is what my mom always complained about,” said Pollard.
After satisfying his mother’s craving, she gave him a push, suggesting that he market his pizza. And that’s exactly what he did. Guido’s in Okemos offers an array of different gluten-free foods, including a variety of salads, breadsticks, wings, pasta and subs. Pollard even took it upon himself to create a gluten-free waffle cone after overhearing a celiac customer talking about having to eat ice cream out of a cup.
“I have one of the most comprehensive gluten-free menus in Michigan,” said Pollard.
Currently, although Pollard is certified through the National Celiac Awareness Foundation as a gluten-free cook, he is only equipped with one kitchen. This has never caused a problem for Pollard, but to make the environment even safer, prevent cross-contamination and evolve his lengthy list of gluten-free products, Pollard is in the works of creating a deli next door to Guido’s. He plans for all of the gluten-free products to be created in that kitchen.
“Right now, I have dedicated pans, shelving, freezer space and a work area that no one is allowed to touch,” said Pollard of his facility.
Before Guido’s, Pollard did not foresee a pizza shop in his future, but he is quite satisfied with the road he chose. Previously a salesman, Pollard’s people skills and interest in food, combined with his co-owner, Vicky Miller’s, restaurant background, made a for a great combination to get into the pizza business. They decided it would be best to start with a chain, and liked the idea that Guido’s is Michigan-based and requires its owners to be present and working a good portion of the time.
“It’s the closest thing to a mom and pop style eatery that is still a franchise,” said Pollard. “A lot of chains will do frozen dough, cheeses mixed with fake cheese and bagged lettuce; but we do a quality product in a timely manner.”
Pollard considers his previous venture with a Guido’s in Waterford as his stepping-stone. After owning that Guido’s for three years, Pollard made the move back to his Okemos roots to start the local pizzeria two years ago. He added the gluten-free menu a year and a half ago. Now, with the deli on the horizon, Pollard is making it a point to cut the costs of his gluten-free pizzas, currently starting at $19.
Aside from gluten-free and traditional pizzas, Pollard’s special diet foods include a vegan pizza with dairy-free cheese, tomato-free, egg and yeast-free pizzas.
Typically, Pollard asks that customers make requests 24 hours in advance for custom-made orders so there is time to prepare the special dough overnight and accommodate food allergies.
“I can basically make a pizza for just about anybody,” declared Pollard.