“For vegan pizza, it’s pretty good”—a sentiment of which we’ve grown weary. Anyone who’s ever tried the stuff knows they ultimately judge vegan pizza by a different standard than traditional pies. Over the years, our experiences with it have varied: some bad, some forgettable, and then there have been a few tasty-enough iterations that were viable alternatives to non-vegan options—nothing that rivaled our favorite, traditional pies, though.
If you often wonder, as we do, “When will someone finally reject this double-standard and craft our vegan buds a worthy pie that rids plant-based pizza of its stigma?” Well, friends, we’re pleased to inform you that the benevolent culinary artists behind Parmagianni Pizza have done just that, and we’ll never look at vegan pizza the same way again.
Resist the urge to plug “Parmagianni” into the Maps app on your phone—though they’re based in Asbury Park, no such brick-and-mortar business exists in Jersey. Parmagianni Pizza is only available roughly every two weeks at pop-ups that occur at a variety of businesses across the state. Our introduction to their product took place during a January pop-up at one of our favorite spots: Cats Luck Vegan in Neptune.
Parmagianni does Detroit-style pizza—rectangular, thick crust pies that resemble the Sicilian style that should be familiar to most New Jerseyans—and to date it’s the best of the style we’ve had, vegan or otherwise. At each event, there are two varieties available to customers: the classic pie called “two stripe life” and a specialty pie that rotates with each pop-up. Considering it was our first Parmagianni experience, we opted for the classic pie and it did not disappoint.
The construction was uncomplicated—NUMU mozzarella, sauce, basil, grated Violife Parmesan on top—but the taste was exceptional (for any type of pizza). First off, NUMU and Violife are doing some next-level stuff in the vegan food space, so kudos to them for providing plant-based and lactose-free folks with really tasty products that come together especially well on this pie—you don’t miss the dairy at all. Onto the sauce: great consistency (not too watery), plenty of flavor, and it doesn’t overpower the rest of the ingredients. The two broad rows of sauce give the pie a unique look and are the inspiration behind the “two stripe” name. Where this pizza really separates itself from the other Detroit-style and vegan pies we’ve had in the past is the crust: light and soft on the inside with a perfect crunch on the outside. The thick square cuts look like they’re going to be heavy and filling but the body of the pie is so airy and delicious, we wish we bought more to sample.
Last month, I spoke with John Razzano, owner/founder of Parmagianni Pizza, to learn more about his pizza-making process, what all goes into a pop-up event, where he sees Parmagianni in the future and more.
Why Vegan Pizza? What was the inspiration?
You go vegan for certain reasons, but you start missing some familiar things and pizza was definitely one of them. Before this concept was even a thing, this goes back five years, I was making circle pies at home, sort of like a New York-style or whatever; 14-inch, 16-inch pizzas. Then I’m trying different [vegan] cheeses and finding out what’s good, what’s bad out there—you learn really quick what’s good and bad.
I’ll just add that in New Jersey it’s tough to find the great vegan pizza. I mean, some people are doing it, but, once I started playing around and getting a little better at it, and getting the right ingredients… I got locked in, and the feedback I was getting from people, it just propelled me to go all in.
When did you start Parmagianni?
June of 2021. I did the first four pop-ups by myself; nobody else was an assistant. So I packed up my car—I didn’t have a trailer back then—and then rolled up to the place with everything that I needed. Pizza boxes, laptop… I had my phone with the little “Square” [point of sale] plugin on it and I’m using just one oven that I think I was borrowing. Yeah, I didn’t even own an oven at the time. So, Green Point Juicery in Morristown, the owner there, Eugene, he’s the nicest guy. He gave me my shot and he’s like, “Come anytime you want, use anything you want.” I carried his little oven that he uses to make muffins, brought it to the back and made my little setup.
Originally I took pre-orders and was going to do some walk-ins, but I quickly learned to just stick with pre-orders when working by myself because I couldn’t take orders and make pizza and fulfill pre-orders all at the same time. By the fourth [pop-up]—they were all at the same spot, Green Point Juicery—I was doing 40 pizzas only. Every pizza gets its own pan, so I had like 42 pans and I would space it out so that it was just two pizzas every 15 minutes or so, to give myself enough time.
How many people comprise the Parmagianni team?
Alex (Moscaritolo) I knew through another friend of mine, who actually introduced me to the Detroit-style pizza. Alex saw what I was doing with the pop-ups and he’s like, “I don’t know how you’re doing this by yourself. Would you like some help?” And I said, “Sure, definitely.” By the fifth event, he was helping me prep beforehand and then he’d show up and help me set up and then he eventually learned how to build the pizzas before they go in the oven.
At that time we were only doing one event per month, but after I added Alex, we realized that even with two people, with walk-ins coming in, we couldn’t really keep up with the pace. So we had to add, I guess you would call it a “front of the house” member—somebody to work a front table and take the money; and that is currently my wife. When curious people show up and are like, “What is this?”… it’s her understanding of everything and what goes into the process that’s really crucial. We can just keep working and she’s talking with people and handling all of that.
Not to denigrate other spots that do vegan pizza, but yours is the best we’ve had. What’s the secret—process, ingredients?
I think discovering Detroit-style, where the crust or dough is really the star of the show, and then you build around that. Mostly the comments are, “The crust is so good!” And then it’s up to us to build flavors around that.
So the process… it’s not fast. From start to finish, before you eat a pizza, it’s probably like, three days, or at least two days. Sourcing organic flour… I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody I use organic, but it’s always organic flour. I think that’s just a personal preference; I don’t know if I could feel or pick up on the additives or preservatives or whatever that’s in [regular flour]. The whole pizza probably won’t be organic because there’s some ingredients you can’t get, but the crust will always be organic. So, yeah, to answer your question, the process is important: knowing that it’s not going to be fast, taking your time, maintaining the temperature control along the way.
I’ve messed with the dough over the years. It used to be a two-day, 48-hour fermentation, but I realized I wasn’t really gaining anything out of that. Now it’s 18- to 24-hour, overnight fermentation in the refrigerator. So, if you want pizza today, you can’t have it today. If you want it tomorrow I can start making dough today and hopefully, tomorrow it’ll come out OK. The process is to put the dough in its own pan—that’s the true style. Once the dough is portioned out into pans, then it’s a series of dimpling to help that dough get to the shape of the pan and let it come to room temperature before covering. It does a four hour rise on its own in the pan itself—rising about an inch and a half—before it sees the oven.
Then it’s just a matter of keeping my other ingredients fresh. My sauce is just five ingredients: crushed tomato, salt, olive oil, sautéed garlic and a little fresh basil—it’s all fresh, made a couple of days before the [event] and then packaged, stored and transported correctly, and at the right temperatures.
How many days of preparation goes into each pop-up event?
Two, three days. It’s typically Thursday, Friday, Saturday, three days, and on the fourth day is the popup. I could probably get it done in one less day, but I space things out so I don’t kill myself.
How do you choose your pop-up locations?
It’s really a mix. Anthropologie (Montclair) was interesting because one of our customers is friends with the store manager in Shrewsbury. I guess our customer told her about us because I got a DM out of nowhere from the store manager asking what they needed to do to get us in there since they do pop-ups in-store. She wanted to try something different, I guess; I couldn’t believe they were reaching out to me. Usually we seek somebody out, communicate with them and then bring them samples or something. But every now and then it does go the other way, where word of mouth will get us [an opportunity].
It really does benefit both parties, though. I mean, we just did a pop-up at Cookman Creamery (Asbury Park) and they had one of their busiest Super Bowl Sundays probably in the history of their ice cream shop. We’re providing traffic for five straight hours just fulfilling pre-orders; and while people are waiting for their pizza, they’re browsing the store, they’re picking other things up and [supporting the business].
Inspiration for different specialty pies?
It’s a conversation every day, all the time, between everybody. It’s like, “I had a meal at a restaurant, it was so good! Can we make that into a pizza?” Like, that’s how we came up with a pear pie last time: Alex worked at a French restaurant once and they had a pear salad. We changed a few things around and made that pie. So the inspiration, I think, comes from everywhere. I mean, there are even pizzerias where you see them do something and you put your twist on it. Everybody borrows from everybody. We see people doing things that we’re doing, so I think the whole pizza industry borrows ideas from each other.
For me and Alex, a lot of inspiration really comes from growing up in Italian families—the meals we were accustomed to eating growing up. We’re both newly vegan, so we know what all the traditional food tastes like. We try to recreate our heritage.
Are you surprised by the growth of Parmagianni?
I have to give Alex a lot of credit here because he makes everything look really great on social media. He’s got the good camera, and he’s got a little film background from school. He’s editing photos and producing reels on Instagram and we’re constantly growing that way. That helps a lot.
Every month we’re gaining followers and pushing ourselves to get to that 100 pizzas sold (per event) mark. We hit 95 last time at Cookman Creamery, and I think we’re gonna hit 100 for sure at our next event at All Roads Vegan.
Where do you envision Parmagianni in the long run—operating under the same model or perhaps a brick-and-mortar location?
Well, Alex and I have nine-to-five jobs and those are still the primary focus; I guess you could call this a side hustle for now. I think if the space was right and the location was right and maybe there was a partnership, potentially we could do something. It would take a lot for me to leave my current nine-to-five to do something full-time right now, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t get a brick-and-mortar and do, say, Friday, Saturday, Sundays. We’re always talking about it, we’re always looking at places and talking to people about how it is to run your own space. But, we’re sticking with the pop-ups for at least the next couple years I would say.
Balancing these pop-ups with your nine-to-five gig seems like it has the potential to get overwhelming at times. What keeps driving you to do this?
We both sit in front of computers all day for work, but [Parmagianni] is a hands-on, creative outlet for us. It’s also a community building thing: collaborating with different businesses and seeing repeat customers is really the excitement of it. The good reviews just keep pushing us to be better.