Detroit’s Pie-Sci Pizzeria Builds a Vegan Following with Plant-Based Pizza Options
Vegan food has always had a dubious reputation.
Chefs and manufacturers across the world have made tremendous progress advancing the taste and flavor of vegan cuisine, but some of those old stereotypes still have a heartbeat.
“It’s like sort of a running joke,” said Jim Geary, part owner of Pie-Sci pizzeria in Detroit. “I would have friends who would say, ‘Oh yeah, these vegetarian breakfast sausages are so good.’ And then you taste them and go, ‘That is not good.’ Or it’s like, people joke about vegan food tasting like cardboard.”
Pie-Sci challenges the notion that vegan food doesn’t stack up to its meat and dairy-based counterparts. At least in the pizza department.
“I feel like we have been able to explore the flavors of non-vegan food and try to find those flavors in vegan food,” Geary said, during an interview with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “It’s important. Just because you’re vegan, or you’re trying to cut some meat out here and there, doesn’t mean you want to eat bland food or something that tastes like it’s just a congealed mass of oils and starches. It should have good flavor, and it can have good flavor.”
Flavor is king at Pie-Sci. The pizzeria – located across the street from Wayne State University’s athletic complexes in the Woodbridge neighborhood of Detroit – is not a strictly vegan restaurant. But Pie-Sci has generated palpable buzz over the past handful of years for its creative vegan pizza recipes. The restaurant dedicates a section of its menu to special, seasonal ‘zas, one or two of which are always vegan.
All vegetarian and meaty pizzas at Pie-Sci can be made vegan; customers just need to request “Follow Your Heart” mozzarella or house-made cashew cheese, as well as protein substitutes. For instance, BBQ-style meaty pizzas can include jackfruit instead.
In the fall of 2022, one of those seasonal vegan delights is the “Indiana Jones and the Tempeh of Doom.” It includes garlic oil, grilled tempeh, seasoned black beans, roasted sweet potato, ‘Follow Your Heart’ mozzarella, cilantro and topped with a vegan adobo sour cream drizzle.
“Vegans are a very loyal group,” Geary said. “If they find foods they like, they will come again. They’ll travel, too. We do sell a lot of pizza to non-vegans, who can buy pizza anywhere. Our vegan customers are very loyal, and beyond just the offerings we have, we use different utensils in preparing our food and work to keep everything separate in the kitchen.”
What is now one of the trendiest, vegan-friendly pizza shops in Detroit started as just a Sunday night pop-up at the neighboring Woodbridge Pub, which Geary formerly owned.
Local chef and entrepreneur Jeremy Damaske made pies at Woodbridge weekly, until he and Geary decided that brand was outgrowing the pub’s kitchen. When the next-door property at 5163 Trumbull Ave. became available for purchase, Damaske was able to take his pop-up and transform it into a full-fledged business. Pie-Sci was founded in 2013.
“It went so well that I bought the property next door and said, ‘Let’s put your pizzeria next door,’” Geary recalled. “I had been his landlord the whole time he’s been operating. Well, one day he called to ask if I’d help him sell his business. We worked on evaluation and all kinds of stuff, and then I decided, ‘You know what, I just want to buy this thing.’ So, I bought it, my wife and I.”
Damaske still manages Pie-Sci, but Geary said he is expected to step away and spend more time with family in the future.
Two hallmarks of Pie-Sci are cooking with quality ingredients and appealing to as many dietary needs as possible. Geary himself was a vegetarian for years, so he knows what it’s like to sit down at a restaurant and find limited options on the menu.
“One of the things I discovered is, a lot of times you go to a restaurant and a lot of times the option is a salad. One salad,” Geary said. “And at Woodbridge Pub, we wanted to serve items that were sneaky vegetarian or sneaky vegan.”
Geary and Damaske certainly brought that spirit with them to Pie-Sci. After putting away a slice or two, guests can satisfy that sweet tooth by ordering “Cloud Bites,” which are vegan, gluten-free handmade ice cream sandwiches.
“We got a lot of very unique things from our supply house that are hard to come by,” Geary said. “But if you spend the time to source good products and hunt them down, (customers) will taste the difference.”
Pie-Sci is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant also offers a special brunch menu on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
More vegan features:
- How Oak House Deli Became One of Metro Detroit’s Favorite Vegan-Friendly Restaurants
- Farmington’s Chive Kitchen Keeps Vegan Eating Fun with Diverse Menu
- Don’t Knock it ‘til you Try it: Detroit’s First Vegan Coney Island Thrives
Photo credit: Pie-Sci