STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY ARYA NASIKKAR
Enter a new state of mind: the embodiment of all things California, tossed into the form of a family-owned pizzeria.
Known for its distinct Californian dishes and family-friendly dining experience, State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria embraces the entire founding family’s passions. The Downtown Los Altos restaurant — and Palo Alto counterpart — offer an eclectic array of specialty pies, California brewed beverages and even ‘90s arcade games.
“This is something that I’m passionate about … I love making pizza, and I love playing pinball, and I love craft beer, and I love local produce and we do all those things,” chef and co-owner Lars Smith said.
As chef, Smith carefully assembles State of Mind’s frequently changing menu, experimenting with in-season, local produce. The newly available summer menu features some of Smith’s current favorite dishes, including the “Been All Around This World” pizza topped with summer squash and the award-winning “Elotero” pizza, inspired by Mexican street corn.
“I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing every day [with] a menu that never changed,” Smith said. “I love, every three months, having to put out a new menu… It’s just exciting for me.”
Unlike many family-owned restaurants, State of Mind opened a second location, called State of Mind Slice House, located only a half mile away from Smith’s childhood home in Palo Alto.
With almost the entire Smith family being born and raised within the Bay Area, the locality of both sites are significant to the family’s personal connection to the community.
Opening a family-owned restaurant like State of Mind was a long-held dream for the Smiths, with two generations of restaurant business experience backing them up.
“When my dad started getting close to retirement, he [said] ‘Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about a family restaurant,’” Smith said.
Nearly every member of Smith’s family helps run State of Mind, whether it be choosing which beverages to serve, hiring or managing finances. Even Smith’s eight-year-old son helps out by building new tables for the restaurant with his grandfather.
To the family, State of Mind isn’t just a restaurant and source of income, but a part of who they are: a way for them to funnel their passions and connect with the community.
“I bring my kids here on my days off and my brother is here playing pinball on his days off,” Smith said. “This place is very authentic to who we are and our experience, and it’s really, really fun to share that with other people.”
Smith’s pizza making experience began with a job at Pizza My Heart, which he started a few months after graduating high school. Initially, he intended to use the job as a launching pad to a different kind of career in dining.
“I had this idea [that] ‘I’m going to do something great and then work for a really fancy restaurant,’” Smith said.
He attended college and majored in history, but soon returned to the culinary scene. After dipping a toe into the world of fine dining, he found himself drawn back to the more casual, accessible charm of Pizza My Heart.
“I fully embraced it,” Smith said. “I loved it, I worked my way up in the management and corporate structure of the company [and realized] I really like pizza. And I really like wearing a t-shirt and jeans to work,” he said.
Despite the happiness that Smith found at Pizza My Heart, he had other ambitions.
“I always had in the back of my mind, ‘I’m going to do something on my own someday,’… with the goal of owning my own restaurant or food truck catering,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that I wanted to do my own thing.”
Fulfilling this dream, Smith established State of Mind with his family members and two former Pizza My Heart co-workers: his wife and his business partner.
Along with the two co-owners, Smith brought a vision for a more casual environment from Pizza My Heart. He regularly interacts with customers as they bounce between seating, the bar and the arcade.
The possibility of opening a third location, still within the South Bay Area, is something which the co-owners are looking into, following the success of their second restaurant location.
“We would like to expand thoughtfully and sustainably for us in ways that make sense, [so] that we could still keep the family values we have: treating employees well, highlighting local and seasonal produce,” Smith said.
However, Smith said that the restaurant won’t expand outside of the local region, staying true to State of Mind’s roots and mission to serve the diverse community that they hold close to heart.
“We’ve created a place that’s open for everybody to come,” Smith said. “It’s all about neighborhood and community and celebration.”
State of Mind currently offers indoor dining and a fully open bar and arcade in adherence with county COVID-19 guidelines. You can order online here, visit State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria at 101 Plaza N, Los Altos, CA 94042 or visit State of Mind Slice House at 3850 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306.