DJ Bhate, the owner of one-year-old Plateau pizzeria Chez Zac, knows that his recent decision to make the restaurant’s menu entirely vegan is bound to lose him some customers: A month ago, his best-seller was the Soprano, which came stacked with chopped chorizo, sliced prosciutto, and lots of capocollo, all set in molten provolone. “I’m sure I lost the Soprano customers because I can’t really make that anymore,” he says, laughing, “but I think I also gained some people along the way.”
On June 21, Bhate transformed his young pizza shop into an all-vegan outfit, a move he largely attributes to front-of-house manager Mike Long, who’s been vegan for the past 20 years, and insisted from day one that the restaurant add a few meat- and dairy-free options to its offering. After working alongside Long for months, and learning about the environmental impact of factory farming, he’s decided that Chez Zac should move beyond what was initially just a vegan footnote to an otherwise animal product-heavy menu. “But, if Mike wasn’t here, I probably wouldn’t have the guts to go for it,” Bhate says.
Bhate says that Long would routinely talk to him about how industrial livestock contributes to deforestation and all the resources being expended to fuel these operations. These ongoing discussions got Bhate paying attention to how much meat his restaurant was going through, but, more importantly, how much of it was being mindlessly scrapped. He estimates that Chez Zac was discarding about two litres of meat every week.
“I started thinking, ‘Why are we — week in and week out — throwing animals out in the garbage for no reason ... It came to a point where it felt like it was getting ridiculous to think that we were contributing to any of [what Mike was telling me about] just so we could get some meat on a pizza.”
Bhate says what made his previous model feel even more absurd was that he believed Chez Zac’s three vegan pizzas were delicious. He knew that many of his customers agreed: A pizza called the Lisa Simpson, featuring sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and slivered almonds, in particular, had become, over time, a close second to the Soprano, outselling every other meatier and cheesier option on offer. So why not go all in?
The pizzeria’s new menu now features 12 options, all vegan, including a pesto pie with artichokes, roasted cherry tomatoes, and organic vegan cheese; one with Thai peanuts, roasted red peppers, coriander, shallots, artichokes, and sriracha; and of course, the Lisa Simpson. Chez Zac is the city’s only all-vegan pizza joint, though Bhate acknowledges that he was by no means the first to offer meat- and dairy-free pies: Plenty of Montreal pizzerias will offer a vegan option or two, and several of Montreal’s Italian-leaning vegan restaurants list pizza as an option on their menus.
For all that’s said about Montreal being a mecca for smoked meat and rotisserie chicken, it’s also home to an ever-growing vegan food scene. And many of its most popular meatless eateries — spots like Sushi Momo, Bowhead Pub, and Chuchai — are concentrated in the Plateau, where Chez Zac also finds itself and where diners can now also find a vegan “all-dressed.” Chez Zac’s version of the Montreal classic comes with the requisite sliced mushrooms and green bell peppers, but there’s no pepperoni — it’s topped with seitan instead.
Chez Zac is open Wednesday to Monday, from 1 to 9 p.m. at 8 Duluth Avenue East.