I know what you're thinking--"oh, another recipe for vegan pizza..." Incorrect! I'm talking about College Inn, a local family-owned pizzeria that serves vegan pizza--complete with vegan cheese and pepperoni. Score 1 for Ypsilanti, MI!
We don't spend a lot of time celebrating restaurants here on IR, but I think it's worth actually looking at this phenomenon for a moment. This is the kind of service and care you can generally only expect from a local business, not a chain. Think about it; why do all of our (and this will depend on where you live, I'm sure) local coffee shops offer soymilk but a corporate behemoth like McDonald's (tm) doesn't? (I guess it could also be that most vegans wouldn't touch McDo with a 10 foot pole.) With the exception of Starbucks (tm), most coffee chains don't offer soymilk. Similarly, you wouldn't expect Pizza Hut (tm) to offer vegan pizzas anytime soon. But what about someone like Papa John's (tm), who have actually expressed a modicum of concern for their potential vegan customers? Are they researching this? Probably not. How many of use would have to email them before they even looked into vegan cheese?
Conversely, how many people had to ask College Inn before they looked? One. One single person--our friend Matt. Matt works at a local screen printing shop, VGKids, whose staff is probably at least 50% veg*n (score 2 Ypsilanti). So word could spread pretty quickly that a bonafied vegan pizza could be had. College Inn, because they genuinely--and personally--care about their customers, just scored the total devotion of an entire market. If you're vegan in Ypsi, you wouldn't think of getting pizza anywhere else. Take note business owners.
What's really impressive, though, is that they haven't rested on their laurels. They're always looking for more vegan toppings, better vegan cheeses, and asking us for our feedback. They've switched cheeses a number of times--starting with Follow Your Heart (tm), moving on to Teese (tm), and currently using (we think) Daiya (tm). If Daiya (tm) is indeed what they're currently using, then I recommend it whole-heartedly. Follow Your Heart (tm) tastes great, but melts poorly. Teese (tm) melted kinda weird and tasted terrible (sorry Chicago Soy Dairy!). When they made the switch to Teese (tm) and we picked up our pizza, Annette (who is awesome) let us know they'd switched and asked us to call her after we'd eaten to give them feedback, which we did. For a while it seemed that the vegan community was mixed, slightly in favor of Teese (tm). We weren't having it, so the owner, Nick, actually brought out both cheeses and had us conduct a taste-test, concerned that we weren't happy with his pizza. Just last night Annette asked us about other toppings, and I mentioned vegan sausage. She's going to call me when it's in. Who does this?!
A local family business that's invested in its customers, that's who. Praise of College Inn aside, I think there are some interesting lessons here:
- Because they're small, local businesses can better respond to their customers and communities. It's easy for College Inn to make a a menu or ingredient change, but hard for Pizza Hut.
- Also because they're small, local businesses can build a personal relationship with their customers. It's like Cheers; sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name (and they're always glad you came).
- Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. It's easy to lament your lack of vegan options, but sometimes just as easy to ask for them. Another of our favorite local establishments, Beezy's, makes sure to have a vegan soup pretty much every day (and Bee even posts the soups to Facebook). Even if they can't meet your needs right away, if enough folks ask, a business will realize (a) that it's profitable to carry vegan stuff and (b) that we vegans can be very devoted if shown some love. If nothing else, it gets the word 'vegan' out there. Which is preferable, having to ask about dairy, stock, meat, fish oil, etc, or asking "Is it vegan?"
So buy local and speak up! Thanks College Inn! Thanks Beezy's!