by Andrew Morrison | Think there’s enough pizza in this town? Think again. There’s a fully licensed 21 seater called Virtuous Pie on the way at 583 Main St. between Keefer St. and Pender St. in Chinatown. It’s coming to us via former Earls Yaletown chef Jim Vesal, who showed me around the construction site last week together with Lia Loukas, the company’s director of marketing and business development.
The concept is 100% plant-based pizzas made with nut cheeses made from cashews, almonds and soy. The menu – a draft of which I’ve included below – also includes a selection of vegan ice creams and salads. Bonus: the “virtuous” pies can be had with gluten-free dough for a small surcharge. Take a look…
A pretty fascinating read, no? To be perfectly candid, I’ve never felt the least bit curious about trying vegan pizza, that is until now. And I don’t care if it’s as Peak Vancouver as stand-up paddle board yoga; kimchi and gochujang braised jackfruit on a pizza with cashew mozza? I want to try that! Here’s the official word from their PR manager, Kristina Matisic.
“I want to change the way people eat,” says executive chef Jim Vesal, one of the key players behind Chinatown’s new eatery, Virtuous Pie, currently under construction.
The name, more tongue-in-cheek than holier-than-thou, plays to the restaurant’s mandate: to serve delicious food that’s also healthy, ethical, sustainable, and affordable.
“Our goal is to give people a dining option that aligns with their principles, without forcing them to sacrifice the things they’ve come to expect in modern-day life, things like value, speed and great taste.” says Vesal.
The key offerings at Virtuous Pie will be plant-based pizzas and “ice cream” but the menu will also include hearty salads, craft beers, sodas and BC wines.
Vesal says the restaurant is designed to be fast-casual (pizza in six minutes or less, perfect for the lunch-in-a-hurry crowd) without being what’s commonly thought of as “fast food.” While there will be some traditional pizzas on the menu, he is eager to surprise diners with less-expected toppings like kimchi and jackfruit.
The executive chef is making as much as he can in-house, including a selection of nut cheeses made from cashews, almonds and soy. Using many elements of traditional cheese making, Vesal says his goal isn’t to mimic existing dairy-based cheeses, but to create new types of products that can stand on their own.
Also on offer, a selection of handcrafted cashew, coconut and almond milk based “ice creams” with flavours like Banana Rum, Peanut Butter Cookie Dough and Mint + Dark Chocolate Chunk, which Vesal says is so good, he’d put it up against any dairy or vegan ice cream in the city.
The Deep Cove native discovered his love of food in high school cooking class and began working in kitchens as a way to pay for university. He went on to obtain his Red Seal at the Culinary Arts program at VCC. After many years at Earls Restaurants, including Head Chef of the Yaletown location, he worked as Executive Chef at Cocktails and Canapes Catering. He has been working to create and launch Virtuous Pie since the fall of 2015.
Also on the VP team, director of marketing and business development, Lia Loukas, who grew up around the restaurant business. Her family owned the popular 90’s restaurant and nightspot Carnegie’s, on Broadway and Fir. The Vancouver-born Loukas got her BSc in Nutrition and Health from UBC and then spent four years working in the UK with a variety of lifestyle brands before returning to B.C.
“I want Virtuous Pie to be more than just a restaurant to people, I want our brand to become part of their lifestyle and to give something back to them, whether it’s a delicious meal with friends, inspiring them with new ingredients and ways of cooking, or connecting them to local events and other members of their community,” says Loukas. “But most importantly, I want to make it easy for them to feel they’re making a difference to our environment simply by making the choice to eat one, or hopefully more, sustainable plant-based meals.”
Vesal et al took possession of the location in May and started construction in late June. They’re the first tenant in the space (the same building as Juniper, which opened around the corner on Keefer St. last year), and they’re making it their own. A brand new Woodstone pizza oven is already in place (it can bake a dozen pies at a time) and the floors are close to being set. Barring any problems, they’re hoping to open the 1,100 sqft eatery in September.