2011 December: Ask Big Dave

I recently had a request for a vegan pizza. What do you suggest?

John Noe
via PizzaToday.com

Hi John. I did a little research in veganism and found the definition from a quick Google search. A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products. While vegetarians choose not to use flesh foods, vegans also avoid dairy and eggs in their diet.
If this definition is spot on, dairy (cheese) couldn’t be on the pizza. Analog cheese doesn’t melt. I wouldn’t eat it, so I wouldn’t sell it.

This is not pizza. Yet, the vegan movement is on the upswing. If you can sell enough of them a week, then maybe it is worth considering. It boils down to your particular market. For me, if an entrée (specialty pizza) doesn’t meet a minimum monthly menu mix percentage, it is a loser. It’s not popular enough to be on the menu and must go away. Read up on menu engineering and you’ll understand why it‘s better not to have too many menu options.
I once offered a seafood pizza on my menu for about three years. I loved it. It had fresh garlic, shrimp, crab, Alfredo sauce and a few complimentary veggies. I finished it with a sprinkle of lemon pepper. It was delicious, but I only sold three or four a week, mostly to my doctor and my mechanic. I threw out as much of its ingredient inventory as I sold, so I finally had to discontinue it.

When my doc came in to order his weekly Seafood De Lite, I regretfully explained that we had to drop it from our menu. He pressed me on what led to that decision. I turned the questioning back to him. I asked him if he had studied the clinical treatment of Leprosy in medical school, and if so could he treat it? He said yes, but he would have to refresh and review the treatment options. Then I asked him if he could make a living treating the disease in our town. When he told me that there was zero demand for specialists in the USA, I let him in on the why of my decision: no demand, no profit, no hard feelings.

Then I made him feel special. I told him if he would go to the grocery store and buy a bag of frozen shrimp and a couple of cans of crab I would store the ingredients with his name on them. He would be the only one in Oscoda who could order a Seafood Pie. When he was about to run out, I would remind him to restock. He was very happy. After a couple of months it went away on its own. I gave a similar explanation to my mechanic. He brought in his private stash once and then never restocked.
The takeaway from this story? I saved the customer and made him feel special. Customers don’t want to hear the word no. Figure out how you can say yes to the vegan and he might just tell everyone.

Big Dave Ostrander owned a highly successful independent pizzeria before becoming a consultant, speaker and internationally sought-after trainer. monthly contributor to Pizza Today.