Meek's Vegan Pizza: Finding Success Opening New (and First!) Restaurant During COVID-19

@meeksveganpizza  | meeksveganpizza.com
Location: Houston, TX
Owner and Chef: Demetrius Walker

Meek's Vegan Pizza is where pizza lovers go when they don’t want to compromise on taste and health. The restaurant is Black-owned, 100% vegan, and 100% delicious. Meek’s is also the first Black-owned vegan pizza place in Houston’s 3rd Ward. We had the pleasure of speaking with Meek’s owner Demetrius Walker about why he decided to open a vegan pizzeria during the pandemic, how he’s keeping up with demand, and his advice for other pizzerias who are looking to create plant-based pizzas.



1. When and why did you start a vegan pizza restaurant? Is this your first restaurant?

After working remotely for most of 2020, I found the thought returning to a cubicle disturbing. When my day job insisted I come back in January, I opted to resign and invest all my stock and crypto earnings into a concept that had taken root in the back of my mind. The idea was born more than a year prior, as I struggled to find vegan foods my nine year old son would like to eat consistently. Then the thought occurred to me: one thing kids can't turn down is pizza! So I figured I'd start there. 

Since moving to Houston in 2007, I had also longed for the delightful taste of New York pizza, where I grew up. But finding pizza that was both vegan and tasted like home was impossible. I'm a serial entrepreneur, so where there are problems to be solved, I know there are opportunities.

We opened our doors on June 7, 2021 after several COVID related delays and this is my first restaurant.

2. Please share any highlights or challenges you've experienced this past year as a new vegan pizzeria.

Everyday has been an exciting ride so far. I originally projected that we would open by April 15, 2021. But, with so many people working remotely or out of work completely due to the pandemic, getting my kitchen inspected and operating permit was delayed by the city. So my first challenge was getting the doors open. I couldn't even operate my pizza oven to experiment with making pizzas until I passed the inspection. But I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason in accordance with divine timing. During the delay, new vegan cheeses like Miyoko's liquid mozzarella debuted. It ended up being the primary cheese I use for my pizzas.

As far as highlights, I'm grateful for the overwhelming amount of support Meek's Vegan Pizza has received from the Houston community. Texas is not yet known as a hub for veganism, so I didn't know whether I'd sell one pizza or a few dozen when the doors opened. But, the first two weeks I sold out of pizza almost everyday. That was exciting, but also understandably frustrating to hungry customers. Now I have a better handle on how much inventory to keep in stock to serve the demand. I also hired two amazing employees, Kayla and Yeye, who were attracted to MVP based on a sense of shared values. We listen to our customers' feedback and work daily to improve operations.

Photos by @empathic.earthling

3. Are there any plant-based pizza ingredients that you are excited to try in the coming year?

I feel like plant-based products are moving at the speed of light. Of course I'm excited about all the innovations in plant-based cheese. I'm also excited about expanding my menu down the road to include new vegan chicken options, as well as hemp based burger meat.  

 

Pictured here: Meek's Vegan Pizza Employees Kayla and Yeye,
and Owner and Chef Demetrius Walker


4. What are your most popular dishes?

Our bestseller is The Meathead, a pizza topped with BE-Hive Vegan Pepperoni, All Vegetarian Inc. Vegan Bacon, Impossible Burger, and Beyond Sausage. Vegans and non-vegans alike have been raving about it! For the gluten-free lovers there's The Nefertiti, which is made with a delicious cauliflower crust. Last but not least is The Plug's Lawyer, which has a good mix between vegan meat and veggie toppings.

 

Photos by @vegan_in_htown

 

5. Do you have any advice for other pizzerias who are looking to create awesome plant-based pizzas?

I advise pizzerias not to be afraid to put their vegan cheese on top of their sauce. I've seen quite a few who put the cheese down then the sauce because they feel that vegan cheese doesn't melt properly or is visually undesirable. Times have changed and there are great cashew and coconut-based cheeses that brown and bubble! 

6. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I would like to invite anyone skeptical of vegan pizza to try Meek's Vegan Pizza. I completely understand the skepticism, as I've been disappointed and felt unfulfilled by pizzas I've tried in the past. But it's a new day, and innovations in veganism now allow for delicious, cruelty-free pizza that may just change your outlook on life. 

 

Thank you to Demetrius for taking the time to share these insights and reflections with us! We are honored to support you, and your customers are beyond lucky to have you, your team, and your delicious plant-based creations!


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