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Santa Maria Sun / Biz Spotlight

The following article was posted on October 22nd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 33

Spotlight on: Palo Mesa Pizza

Michael and Kelly Stevens, owners


Chef Michael Stevens, owner of Palo Mesa Pizza in Arroyo Grande, competed on Oct. 7 at the American Pizza Championship in Las Vegas, where he won third place.

Michael Stevens did it again. Every time the chef and owner of Palo Mesa Pizza in Arroyo Grande travels across the country to compete in pizza competitions, he places higher than the time before.

Earlier this month, the passionate pizzaiolo went to Las Vegas to compete in the American Pizza Championship and Fall Trials at the International Baking Expo. He entered the category “Best Pie,” for which the competition is fierce, and came in third place.

“It’s amazing! I have a great group of people around me,” Michael said. “It’s pretty cool!”

Michael also earned a spot on the U.S. Pizza Team with an invitation to represent the United States in Parma, Italy, in April 2014 at the World Pizza Championship.

Michael called his winning creation “a fun, flavorful pizza.” Named “The Michaela” after his 4-year old daughter, the pizza is a hand-tossed pie with Palo Mesa’s traditional homemade red sauce, pepperoni, premium bacon, red onions, jalapeno, pineapple, fresh garlic, and fresh cilantro.

(The Michaela pizza is not on Palo Mesa’s regular menu, but regular customers often order it off the “secret menu.”)

Participants in the American Pizza Championship brought their own ingredients to the competition, chose between two ovens, and were judged by a panel of food critics, Le Cordon Bleu chefs, and pizza connoisseurs. Each pizza was graded on crust, sauce, cheese, and toppings, as well as overall taste, creativity, visual appeal, and the ability to commercially sell the pizza.

For the contest, Michael used the same ingredients that Palo Mesa Pizza incorporates on its daily menu.

“I am most proud of the fact that my staff had a hand in making the pie I won with. I didn’t make everything all by myself. We all had a hand in making the dough and the sauce,” Michael said.

The culinary school graduate started working in pizzerias in his home state of Michigan at age 16.

Michael takes great pride in his pizza, calling it art. Everything at Palo Mesa is fresh and homemade; pizza, pasta, calzones, fried chicken, sandwiches, and salads.

Earlier this year, he finished first in the Southwest and fifth for “Best Pizza in the World” at the International Pizza Expo’s Pizza Challenge in Las Vegas. Last year Palo Mesa placed 19th, and the year before that they came in 21st.

Michael plans to enter a couple more competitions before heading to Italy next spring with the U.S. Pizza Team, which consists of 20 expert pizza makers and dough-spinning, box-folding, acrobatic performers from pizza restaurants across the United States.

“Yes, we are going to Italy,” added Michael’s wife Kelly, co-owner of Palo Mesa. “This is a great honor in the pizza world!”

There are two Palo Mesa locations in Arroyo Grande, at South Halcyon Road and U.S. Highway 1 and in the Walmart Shopping Center on Rancho Parkway. Palo Mesa delivers and also caters. Their website is palomesapizza.com.

Michael and Kelly Stevens also own and operate Tanner Jack’s restaurant in Arroyo Grande.

The couple hopes to open two more Palo Mesa Pizza stores next summer.


Sun contributor and Eats columnist Wendy Thies Sell wrote this week’s Spotlight. Send comments and items for consideration to aasman@santamariasun.com.