Tioga Town Center Welcomes Blue Highway Pizza

Courtesy of The Gainesville Sun

Funky pizza place opening in Tioga

After celebrating a successful five years in Micanopy, Blue Highway Pizza will join the likes of Nature’s Table, Flour Pot Bakery, Dionysus Wine Bar, Northwest Seafood and Peterbrooke Chocolatier in the Tioga Town Center on Newberry Road.

Blue Highway, known for its fun, funky atmosphere and specialty pizzas, is expanding to its second location, which chef and owner Frank Ruffino hopes to open sometime in June.

“We get people from Alachua and from The Villages that make the drive to our restaurant,” Ruffino said.

The new location, which replaces Cucina Mia, a former gourmet cooking shop, will still maintain the family, hometown environment while enhancing the kitchen and menu.

Lee Deaderick, owner of the Northwest Seafood fish market in Tioga, said he his excited to have a new addition.

“It’s always good to have successful businesses around you,” Deaderick said. “They are good local business people, and most of the businesses here are local people.”

The 2,300-square-foot space – 1,200 more square feet than the location in Micanopy – will have more seating, between 75 to 80 instead of seating for only 37, and will have new equipment so Ruffino can also expand the menu.

“We are getting a fryer, so we will be able to offer things like fried calamari and wings,” he said.

The revamped menu also will include lasagna, pastas and piadines, a traditional Italian flatbread, which Ruffino said is one of the more popular items at his Micanopy location.

“It’s like a sandwich, salad and pizza all rolled into one,” he said.

Even during an economic recession, Ruffino is confident Blue Highway’s second location will attract new customers as well as maintaining its regulars.

“It’s a concern opening another place, but I can’t let that dictate what’s going on,” he said. “We are still going strong, and people enjoy the type of food and atmosphere we offer.”

Ruffino, a native of Chicago, got his start in the restaurant business when he bought his first restaurant in Sarasota at age 27. It was there that he met his wife, Winny. The couple was known as “Pop and Mom” to customers.

In 1978, he and Winny opened a seafood restaurant in Siesta Key.

After moving to Gainesville, where Ruffino was the executive chef at the University of Florida, in the late 1980s, the next stop was Pittsburgh in 1994, then corporate executive chef at Sedhexo and finally back to Gainesville.

“We love this area,” he said. “Then we found this beat-up, little place.”

That beat-up, little place was the former Witts Inn, 12 miles south of Gainesville on U.S. 441.

Ruffino bought the building, gutted it and in 2004 started Blue Highway Pizza, a family-run business with Winny, his son and daughter.

Blue Highway celebrated its fifth anniversary April 6.

Ruffino has won numerous awards, such as the Top 50 Research and Development Culinarians in the U.S.A. in 2003, the Menu Master’s Award in 2003 and Gainesville’s Fresh Food Challenge in 2007.

With Blue Highway, “I wanted something casual that people enjoy and eat all the time,” Ruffino said. “To be able to create a good pizza, that’s a beautiful thing.”

Ruffino said he only uses local fresh and organic ingredients and takes pride in making affordable dishes from scratch.

“We try to make all of our stuff in-house and just try to keep our service as friendly and efficient as it is now,” Ruffino said. “We try to create good food at a good value.”

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By The Gainesville Sun
Hayley Mathis, Brian W. Kratzer/Staff photographer
5:13 pm, April 13, 2009

Media Contact: Frankel Media Group 352-331-5558