Photo by Sal Ingram

Wood-fired pizza lovers have cause to celebrate. On Nov. 17, a new restaurant named Bantam opened its doors and began serving an array of delicious pizzas to customers.

Located on the Westside, Bantam is committed to using organic ingredients and changing its menu daily. Although the central focus of the menu is an eclectic mix of wood-fired pizzas, the restaurant also offers inventive dishes like avocado toast as well as several types of salads and pasta.

The restaurant is co-owned by Benjamin Sims and his wife Sarah. Benjamin, 37, who had previously been employed as a chef at another Westside eatery, Ristoranti Avanti, claimed that he has wanted to own a restaurant since he was 20 years old.

Sims’ new restaurant implements an often varying menu as his chefs work with fresh ingredients.

“By changing the menu each night,” Sims said, “we get to use the ingredients how they want to be used and not how we want to use them. That way, we avoid being pigeonholed into finding the ingredients for a menu. I think people take more risks with a static menu than with one that changes according to the seasonal ingredients.”

The wood-fired pizza recipes are inspired by the same ones Sims used while working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

“I’ve seen these pizza-centric restaurants succeed,” Sims said. “It’s a formula that works because it invokes a casual atmosphere.”

Bantam receives much of its produce and meat from local and organic farms in its efforts to maintain a healthy and food-conscious mission.

“I think the organic movement is burgeoning in Santa Cruz,” Sims said. “It speaks to being local and sustainable, it speaks to small farms. In fact, that’s more important to us than the term ‘organic,’ which has been taken over by big corporations. It’s more important for us to know who’s growing our vegetables, where our fish are being caught, and how our animals are being raised and treated.”

Head chef Melissa Rietz said that staying local is a critical part of working at Bantam. By working closely with small farms, the restaurant is showing their support for the great produce that grows around Santa Cruz.

“On the East Coast,” Rietz said, “you just don’t have produce like California’s. There are so many great farms here and it’s been really exciting to work with them.”

In addition to working with local farms, Bantam is offering some dessert items from Santa Cruz’s own Penny Ice Creamery and Verve Coffee Roasters. The restaurant also uses bread from nearby Companion Bakeshop. By supporting local businesses, Bantam hopes to integrate itself with the growing Santa Cruz food market.

“The Santa Cruz food scene is trying to blossom right now,” Rietz said. “There are so many small businesses in Santa Cruz and we’re all trying to work together by using each other’s products. By doing this, hopefully the food scene gets bigger.”

Besides working closely with local businesses, Bantam is also eager to make use of its Westside location.

“I think that the Westside is an up-and-coming neighborhood,” Sims said. “We looked at downtown but we weren’t that interested in working somewhere that markets mostly to tourists. I think it’s a more sustainable business model to build relationships in one neighborhood and have steady business throughout the year.”

Each night since the restaurant opened, it has been bustling with intrigued pizza-tasters. Sims said that this initial flood of business has “exceeded expectations.” With fresh and organic wood-fired pizzas, a casual atmosphere and a prime location in the heart of the Westside, Bantam is set to build on its incipient success.


Bantam is located at 1010 Fair Avenue, across from New Leaf Market. For more information or to see their daily menus, visit