Today was G-Day in Austin. Nope, the city didn’t finally recognize me for my contributions to local culture, but one of its born and bred businesses did formally unleash its latest weapon in the pizza wars.
Gatti’s Pizza, which long ago dropped the Mr. from its name, was established in Austin under the name The Pizza Place in 1969. Today it kicked off a campaign to highlight its gluten-free pizza offering 12-inch, three topping pies to anybody with an appetite and a bit of patience at all 16 Austin locations for free.
“Many people have celiac disease and other gluten sensitivities and we are excited to be able to provide our Austin guests a gluten-free option with a delicious taste profile unlike any other gluten-free crust,” said Gatti’s CEO Richard Snead of the event in a company release. “We wanted to find a way to drive trial of our new gluten-free pizza and thought what better way than to let our guests sample it for free.”
Snead had this freeloading foodie at free. I decided to roll down to the Gatti’s location at Anderson Lane and see how the chain’s latest offering stacked up – and left impressed.
I’m no food snob but as a pizza aficionado I know the difference between Conans and CiCi’s. With so many delicious local pizzerias offering just about every style of pie from Chicago to New York, gluten-free and even vegan, it’s rare that I hit a chain restaurant to get my fix. It’s even more rare that I get that fix at Gatti’s, an admitted childhood favorite, but one I have sampled rarely since my college years.
So, when I bit into my Italian sausage, mushroom and bell pepper offering to find that not only was the gluten-free crust tasty – firm with just the appropriate amount of crunch for a thin slice – that the toppings were fresh, well seasoned and complimented the tangy, almost sweet, sauce well enough to belie its origin as a chain restaurant offering.
The people responsible for the crust – the crucial ingredient for success in any gluten-free offering – Austin’s Smart Flour Foods, are the preferred provider for gluten-free products for several local eateries including Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Mangia and Austin’s Pizza. It shows in the final product at Gatti’s.
Smart Flour sales manager Lauren Rohr was on-hand to witness as dozens of hungry folks converged on the Anderson Lane store, before being forced to head out and help deliver more supplies after a brutal lunch rush had depleted stores across the city.
“They (Gatti’s) planned for it. They prepped. They got more than they prepped for, and they’re already about to run out,” she said of the high demand. “So we’re about to take orders direct to the stores. We expected probably about five cases per store, which is five dozen, and now we’re about to double that.”
She went on to add that there were several reasons people were excited about going gluten-free, that didn’t included the gratis pie.
“Gluten is a protein found in wheat barley and rye. In general wheat is a hard grain for anyone to digest. Over the past 50 years there’s just been more gluten in our food stream. People are using it as cheap filler, or they were until the wheat shortages I assume, and it’s been over processed, which makes it harder for you to get to the good stuff, the whole grain aspect of it,” Rohr said. “People are realizing that just by cutting gluten out of their diet they feel better – whether they have celiac disease, migraines, IBS, any stomach related issues, skin issues – rashes things like that… It can affect so many different things that happen to your body.”
Smart Flour makes its gluten-free crust in Austin in a 100 percent gluten-free facility out of a blend that includes tapioca, amaranth, teff flours. It does not contain any wheat, rye, barley, or oats and also is free of casein, egg, soy, rice and nuts.
“They (Gatti’s) were interested in doing gluten-free, but they were really worried about the cross contact. They wanted to do it right if they did it. So it’s been a really long process,” Rohr added. “They worked with people from the Gluten Intolerance Group of Central and South Texas to actually form all of their cross contact policies and procedures. They do such a great job with it. It was over two years ago when we started talking to them, and about a year and a half ago we launched in six area locations. In June they did all 16 area locations and by August they will have 30 Austin metro locations (gluten-free).”
If you miss today’s deal and have gluten issues don’t fret. A 10-inch and 12-inch gluten-free pie will be mainstays of the Gatti’s menu locally from now on, with the smaller pie going for $12.59 and the larger one priced at $14.59. Both are available for pick-up, deliver and of course dining in.