Above: The Angry Vegan
Dan Shapiro, marketing director of Mohawk Bend, situated in Los Angeles’ artsy Echo Park neighborhood, notes that since opening in 2011, the philosophy has proudly always been “vegan first.” “We center our vegan options in our offerings and offer nonvegan options as a substitute to remain inclusive to all dietary needs,” Shapiro explains. “This flipping of the paradigm has helped us develop innovative dishes like Buffalo Cauliflower, which we invented back in 2012 before it became a global phenomenon.”
At Mohawk Bend, this approach carries over to its pizzas, too: All but two of them are served vegan by default. “Our most popular, the Angry Vegan, is served with vegan mozzarella, cashew ricotta, vegan Parmesan, serrano, Calabrian chilis and oregano,” Shapiro notes. “We use Follow your Heart cheese in our pizzas, and overall we’ve noticed that this has been the biggest improvement in vegan dining in the past decade—these cheeses have a much better flavor and mouthfeel then when we began!”
PizzaVegan sat down with Shapiro to learn more about Mohawk Bend’s philosophy and food.
Q: Why is it important for you to offer plant-based/vegan pizzas, and cater to vegans in general, at your restaurant?
Ever since we opened in 2011, Mohawk Bend has always described itself as “vegan first.” Although we offer items for all dietary choices, most of our menu selections come vegan by default (with the option to make them non-vegan). We believe that our guests value the opportunity to make more sustainable choices, and we’ve found that even non-vegans appreciate the creativity and new flavors brought by our vegan items. More importantly, the inclusivity that a vegan-first menu provides means that no one is left out from the party—particularly important for a restaurant that focuses on making great pizza that everyone can share!
Q: Do you see sales of vegan/plant-based growing?
Vegan sales have absolutely been growing. Over the past decade, we’ve seen veganism go mainstream. Case in point: our buffalo cauliflower. When we introduced this item in early 2012, it was a totally new invention. Now, it’s on menus in pubs across the country—vegan or not. This trend has only continued to rise year after year, and we’re excited to see how it will grow in the future.
Q: What was the process of choosing the vegan brands and products to add to your kitchen and menu? Do you create any of your own vegan ingredients in-house?
Foremost in importance is obviously flavor—if the product doesn’t taste excellent, it won’t go on our menu. But availability is just as important, too, because we’d hate to have to constantly remove a product from the menu due to supply shortages. For some of our items, like our vegan cheeses, we’ve found great suppliers, like Follow Your Heart, that make a product that works for our pizzas. Other times, however, we’ll look in-house for our supply. We’ve got a great recipe for our vegan ranch that uses all in-house ingredients and is made from scratch.
What vegan-friendly items do you offer on the menu? What are some vegan-friendly best-sellers?
Our most popular pizza is the Angry Vegan, made with vegan mozzarella, cashew ricotta, vegan Parmesan, serrano, Calabrian chilis and oregano. But our Baked Potato (with garlic aioli, mozzarella and Asiago, Yukon potatoes, tempeh bacon, sour cream and scallion) and Bianco e Verde (mozzarella and Asiago, ricotta, crimini, portobello, garlic, spinach and extra-virgin olive oil) pizzas are not far behind on that list. We also have a rotating special pizza each month that we call “Piece of the Pie,” where $4 from each pizza sold goes to a local nonprofit organization. This pizza always comes vegan.
Baked Potato Pizza
Q: What has been the customer reaction to your vegan offerings?
Our customers love our vegan options! Since we’re such a popular spot for large parties, we find that we often become an entry point for newly vegan or vegan-curious diners, and we love when we see those diners come back after first trying new vegan items here.
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