A Q&A With Alex Koons: ‘Your Meals Is Form of a Track’

By Rick Hynum

As PMQ’s Could 2023 cowl story explains, Alex Koons, proprietor of Scorching Tongue Pizza in Los Angeles, markets his vegan pizzeria with a light-weight—and infrequently comedic—contact, significantly by way of his laugh-out-loud Reels on Instagram. However make no mistake: He’s critical, considerate and ofttimes philosophical in regards to the enterprise. Attributable to restricted area, we might solely hit the highlights of our interview with Koons within the print challenge, however on this web-exclusive Q&A we delve somewhat deeper as he talks about his ardour for plant-forward pizza and the way he appears past Instagram to market Scorching Tongue and keep top-of-mind within the extremely aggressive L.A. pizza market.

PMQ: You had been a musician and a studio engineer earlier than you moved into the pizza enterprise. What was the transition from music to pizza like, particularly going from the late-night hours of rock-and-roll to working a pizzeria everyday?

Koons: I’d argue that they’re very a lot the identical. I feel pizza, particularly in Los Angeles or the retailers that I’ve labored at, actually appeal to a musician as a result of there’s all the time a versatile schedule. Plenty of occasions [in the pizza business], you’re probably not working in the course of the morning, so you’ll be able to sleep in if you wish to. However, I feel, if you wish to achieve success in something, you might want to have self-discipline. The bands that slept in and partied an excessive amount of most likely nonetheless aren’t round. In my music profession, I didn’t take it severely. If I had taken it half as severely because it ought to have been taken as a job, I most likely would’ve been 10 occasions extra profitable.

Being in a band is so much like being in a restaurant. You set your self on the market. You continue to have merch. Your clients are so much like your followers, and your meals is type of a track. It’s all very comparable….Working a restaurant will be cool. I see lots of people have loads of enjoyable with it, however it takes a specific amount of dedication and placing your self into it that you just want in any business, whether or not it’s being in a band, working a restaurant, or, I don’t know, proudly owning an H&R Block. You gotta put your ardour into your goal and into all the pieces.

Picture by Matt Polizzi

PMQ: How did you find yourself co-owning Purgatory Pizza after which launching Scorching Tongue Pizza by yourself?

Koons: The proprietor was in search of buyers on the time, and I mainly stated I’d make investments and have become 50% proprietor. And that was the takeoff. I wished to open up extra eating places. I’m vegan. So it was vital for the Purgatory menu to essentially be well-rounded. It was a spot the place, in the event you’re gluten-free, vegan otherwise you ate a ton of meat, that menu was so all-inclusive that anybody might go there. These days, everybody’s received a dietary restriction, and it was a spot for everybody. As I received extra into the vegan delicacies stuff, I knew that was the place my coronary heart was and the place I used to be transitioning. And so Scorching Tongue was born. My associate at Purgatory didn’t need to open up a second location. So we selected me opening up [Hot Tongue] in Silver Lake, which is seven miles away from Purgatory.

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PMQ: Why did you need to open a vegan pizzeria?

Koons: I used to be vegetarian since I used to be, like, 20 years previous. I’m 37 now. So I’ve been vegetarian for a really very long time, after which I went absolutely vegan, I feel, perhaps six years in the past. However I don’t ever need to preach or get on a soapbox of why I’m a vegan. It’s a private resolution. And I’ve been very proud of how I really feel and the way I prepare dinner. And I additionally just like the problem of going toe to toe with any person who’s utilizing meat and dairy on their pizza and simply ensuring that I’m nonetheless popping out on high or, not less than, I’m proper there with you, you recognize? And that’s exhausting to do.

The phrase “vegan” comes with loads of weight. There’s lots of people who take a look at that phrase, and, they’re, like, “I’m not consuming there. That’s gross, or that’s bizarre.” However, actually, it’s simply plant-forward meals. It simply doesn’t have these two primary substances [meat and dairy] that we’ve all grown up consuming and that all of us love and which might be all scrumptious.

this is a photo of a pizza topped with pesto base, roasted red pepper, mushroom, almond ricotta, fresh parsley and black sesame seeds
Picture by Miriam Brummel


PMQ: So for you, Scorching Tongue Pizza is nearly nice pizza, interval, not nice vegan pizza.

Koons: I’m making an attempt to make one of the best pizza, the pizza that I need to eat. The muse of any nice pizza is the dough course of. I imply, in the event you don’t have good dough, then your pizza is gonna suck. Gentle, ethereal, crispy, an ideal crumb construction: There’s loads of love that goes into that course of. And that’s simply me getting on the web, studying books after which failing again and again and over and over and tinkering and tinkering and tinkering. I nonetheless tinker with the dough recipe daily. It’s one thing that I’ll preserve taking part in with for the remainder of my life. I feel that’s the way you get higher.

The opposite half is presenting issues differently. Like, somebody would possibly say, “Oh, I’d by no means put broccolini on a pizza.” However in the event you season it proper and it creates that type of umami taste or that chew in your mouth that’s perhaps much like, like, a crumbled sausage…you’re simply making an attempt to match that sample [customers are familiar with], you recognize? And it’s the identical factor with cheese. I don’t need the vegan cheese I make to overpower something it’s not speculated to. It’s not even supposed to exchange something. It’s speculated to be one thing totally different. It’s a cashew cream that type of emulsifies and has an identical texture [to mozzarella], however it’s fully totally different. If I didn’t need to name it mozzarella, I wouldn’t. I’d name it what it’s: a cashew cream. I’m not making an attempt to exchange mozzarella, as a result of that’s 100% inconceivable. It’s actually nearly doing all the pieces with 100% integrity. And I feel everybody who is available in right here can style that. There’s no b.s. to cover behind.

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PMQ: And also you’ve received a reasonably easy menu, proper? I noticed, I feel, seven specialty pizzas in your menu. What was the pondering behind that?

Koons: I feel everybody needs to be retaining their menu easy and actually concentrating on what they’re good at. I didn’t provide you with any humorous names for these pizzas as a result of all I’m making an attempt to do is reinvent what a plant-forward pizza might be. I’ve a Sicilian—I name it a White Pie. I’ve a Margherita, a Detroit, a Supreme. There’s no bells or whistles. That is my model of all of these pizzas. So I did the basic pizzas that you’d get wherever else. I feel the craziest one is a Buffalo pizza, which is fairly fashionable out right here in California. You’re most likely not gonna see that in New York. However, for probably the most half, it’s simply your primary hitters.

PMQ: Do you utilize any of the so-called vegan meats, or does that curiosity you in any respect?

Koons: No, I don’t want them myself. We do make our personal vegan pepperoni, which can be gluten-free. We use soy protein, and it’s good. And we make a crumbled sausage. And I feel most individuals wouldn’t even know [it’s vegan] as a result of ground-up Italian sausage is fairly straightforward to duplicate. However I’m not considering utilizing anybody else’s meats however my very own. And, actually, it’s not one thing that I like that a lot, so I’m most likely not going to increase that a part of the menu.

this is a photo of a delicious-looking vegan pizza in the Detroit style. It's topped with chunky marinara, mushroom, spinach, garlic, whipped almond dollops and sesame seeds
Picture by Miriam Brummel

PMQ: Can your clients select their substances and construct their very own pizza?

Koons: Yeah, you’ll be able to construct your personal. However that’s type of annoying as a result of lots of people will attempt to construct their very own pizza and, you recognize, it’s gonna suck. You realize what I imply? Like, they put collectively too many toppings. They throw on an excessive amount of sauce. “I would like caramelized onions, crimson bell peppers, spinach.” They pile on all of the wettest substances. After which they name you again and say, “Hey, this was soggy.” And, it’s, like, “Properly, no s—, it’s soggy. You ordered it that means.” We attempt to educate them. We’ll say, “Hey, in the event you’re gonna do further cheese, I wouldn’t do further sauce.” After which, you recognize, you warned them and in the event that they nonetheless say, “No, I would like that,” then it’s what it’s.

PMQ: Your pizzas are additionally simply actually fairly to take a look at. Do you develop your recipes with this type of visible aesthetic in thoughts?

Koons: Yeah, as a result of I feel it’s actually vital that plant-forward pizzas look no totally different than a pizza that may have meat or dairy on it. Individuals eat with their eyes first. They all the time have. They all the time will. Particularly now. Individuals now eat with their cameras first, which is loopy. Some individuals sit there and take footage till their pizza’s chilly. However, yeah, once I put one thing collectively, particularly like a home pie or or a specialty pie, I need to be sure that it’s gonna be photo-friendly out of the oven, that it’s a chunk of artwork each time. And that it’s scrumptious. It needs to be hitting on each single cylinder. You realize what I’m saying? All of your senses needs to be at play. And then you definately take that chunk and it’s like, “Holy s—, what’s this? Dude, you simply change my life!”

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PMQ: We already talked about your Instagram advertising (within the cowl story). What different type of advertising do you do?

Koons: We do electronic mail and textual content advertising. We’ve a advertising program that emails and texts individuals after their order and asks them to fee their meal. In the event that they fee their meal, they get a code for 20% off on their subsequent order. And that helps to get repeat clients. In addition they get push notifications in the event that they haven’t ordered in, like, a month with a reduction on their subsequent order.

I’ve been doing a direct menu mail-out and can see how that works. We’ve completed some flyering, too, however a lot of the advertising’s been on-line. Placing collectively a advertising plan on this subsequent 12 months is unquestionably vital and probably working with some type of public relations individual for one or two months to essentially kick issues off. As a result of, you recognize, in a giant metropolis it’s straightforward to go unnoticed. There are individuals that also are available in daily they usually’re, like, “I had no concept you had been right here” or “I’ve pushed previous this place perpetually, and I’ve by no means are available in.”

And I hate to say this as a result of I’m not a giant fan of those platforms, however…there are additionally the opinions that we get on Yelp and Google and having the ability to use these instruments. Whether or not that’s reaching out to individuals or ensuring I’m updating my profile footage and placing dwell updates in Google and in Yelp and ensuring that there’s delicious-looking photographs for each single pizza. These touchpoints have introduced extra individuals in as a result of they’re, like, “I’m not vegan, however you have got 5 stars on Yelp. You don’t see 5 stars so much.” We wouldn’t have 5 stars if the meals and the expertise wasn’t nice, so I attribute that to us and our employees. We introduced these individuals in, however persons are happening these platforms and giving us a five-star score on each Google and Yelp. We hear, as a rule, “Hey, I noticed you guys on Google” or “I noticed you guys on Yelp.” And loads of the time it’s individuals saying, “I’m not vegan, however we’ve gotta attempt you.” They usually all the time depart glad.