Time to play, “IS IT VEGAN?”

Photo from Quarrygirl.com

Photo from Quarrygirl.com

You know how sometimes, when you leave the SCV in search for an all vegan restaurant you come upon a place that just doesn’t seem quite right? Places that come off as a bit shady, with seemingly clueless employees that just answer every question about ingredients with a “yes, all vegan”. Maybe the food wasn’t vegan at all. Maybe you were tricked! Deceit! Lies! For shame!

Or, could it be that the restaurant itself was lied to by its wholesaler? Or was the wholesaler lied to by the manufacturer? Why are there so many people touching my food? Well, no matter how many people are getting paid by my restaurant order, it all comes down to what is on my plate. All I want to know, is what is in my food. Is it vegan?

The fine people at the LA-based vegan food blog, Quarrygirl.com decided that they will not just take someone’s word for it anymore; because some people can be ignorant, liars or both. Instead, they will ask SCIENCE for the answers. Science does not have a charming smile nor a good sense of humor, but it does have honesty and right now that is what we are looking for.

Armed with lab kits and a contamination-free testing environment, the Quarrygirl team tested some of Los Angeles’ favorite (and sketchy) vegan restaurants to see just how vegan their food really is. The results my shock you.

Zpizza – Valencia

Zpizza - Valencia

Much controversy surrounds Zpizza within the vegan community. Before I go on, I want to make it clear that this is going to be a positive review. I recommend Zpizza to all my Vegan Claritans, but first I want to explain why there has been so much confusion and to make the truth official about this quickly growing pizza franchise

*** Since publishing this review, someone from Fransmart commented on this post (see comment #3 on the bottom of this post) saying that the name of the menu item was called the “Killer Veggie” pizza, and not the “Killer Vegan” pizza. I have not been able to find this menu item with Google searches (Archive.org has past versions of the zpizza website stored on their servers, and I found that the “Killer Veggie” first appeared on the menu archives in March of 2000, and the “Killer Vegan” in December of 2001 [highlight text to view]. The names seemed to interchange with eachother, and even be used at the same time; VEGAN on the menu page and VEGGIE on the nutritional page. The Berkley pizza first appears in the archives in December of 2004. I saw the first media report mentioning the “Killer Vegan” as a NEW pizza dated 2003 which is where I got the date in my original publishing.) except for a couple mentions on web forums. I provided sources for the pizza being called the “Killer Vegan”, and whether this was the real name or not, the fact that it was published as such on the internet by independent sources certainly added to the confusion. Why it was mistakenly called a VEGAN pizza by more than one source is beyond me. Neither the “Killer Vegan” nor the “Killer Veggie” currently exist on the menu and appear to have been replaced by the “Berkley Soy Cheese Veggie”. Why the name was changed if not labeled VEGAN was not mentioned. If someone from Fransmart or Zpizza could also respond to quarrygirl.com’s experience at a Zpizza in West Hollywood I’m sure it would be appreciated.

I’m not sure if this review and news about Zpizza’s soy cheese comes off as negative or not, and I appologise if it puts any kind of negative light on the Valencia store because I have nothing but positive things to say about that place. However, we vegans only want to know exactly what’s in the food we’re eating. I keep seeing, reading and hearing so many different answers to the question of Zpizza’s soy cheese. There are vegan customers that Zpizza will never get back because correct answers were not available, or products were misrepresented. I prefer to focus on vegan issues relating to just the Santa Clarita Valley, but someone needed to post the exact information and it just so happens that it was this vegan blog in Santa Clarita that decided to keep calling people until those definate answers were found.

Again, VEGANS can feel safe and enjoy Zpizza, especially the one in Valencia which told me on my first inquiry that the soy cheese was not vegan. Certainly I would rather eat at Zpizza than Pizza Hut, Papa John’s or most other places in Santa Clarita. Just remember to order the organic tomato sauce and no soy cheese. ***

From what I have been able to gather, the confusion began in late 2003 when Zpizza introduced a new menu item called “The Killer Vegan Pizza”. I have been unable to find a picture of a Zpizza menu board displaying this title, but it has been quoted in several different media reports and restaurant reviews. The pizza featured veggie burger crumbles, soy cheese and a pesto sauce (possibly containing Parmesan cheese, not sure on that). The soy cheese contains casein, a milk protein and very non-vegan. I was unable to find a press release but it appears the “Killer Vegan Pizza” was re-named “The Berkley Soy Cheese Veggie”. Customers of various Zpizza locations have gotten mixed information on whether or not the soy cheese was vegan. I don’t believe Zpizza was purposely trying to deceive people, I think they just honestly did not know that labeling something VEGAN was akin to saying it’s Kosher. Probably thinking vegan was a hip buzzword used among vegetarians who ate soy foods, not realizing that there are certain rules that must be followed when labeling something as vegan.

I asked my local Zpizza and they told me the soy cheese contained casein, but I knew that a definitive answer was in order. I first called Zpizza headquarters in Newport Beach, CA but the phone number on their website is actually for their franchise partner, Fransmart. The operator told me that she thinks the soy cheese contains casein but did not know for sure. I asked if she knew which brand of soy cheese Zpizza uses, and she told me it was purchased from a company called Schreiber Foods. She gave me a phone number for Schreiber Foods and a name of their contact over there. Turns out the phone number was for Sara Lee Food Services in Illinois, and they have never heard of Schreiber Foods nor this contact person.

I used Google to find the number for Schreiber Foods, who are located in Wisconsin. They were really nice but apparently could not tell me about their soy cheese because they make several different products and weren’t sure which one Zpizza uses. I asked the Schreiber rep’ if she had a sales record for Zpizza to see which they were purchasing but no record was found. I was told Zpizza probably purchases through a distributor, so I would need to call a Zpizza and get the product code from their box of soy cheese to find out exactly which one they use. So, I called our local Zpizza in Valencia, CA who were very helpful and gave me the product number as well as the name of their supplier; Sysco Foods inc.

I called Schreiber Foods back and gave them the product code, but was told that this code was for real cheese, specifically a pizza cheese blend. I thought this was strange since the person from my local Zpizza clearly read to me that the package said “Imitation Mozzarella”. Realizing this was not going to give me the answers I needed, I asked for the number for Sysco Foods who are located in Texas. I called Sysco and asked which soy cheese they sell to Zpizza. The operator kept searching and called other Sysco employees to try and find the answer. Finally I was given the number of Sysco’s Los Angeles office and their Account Executive of Program Sales. This person knows exactly what Zpizza buys and uses in their restaurants. She was extremely helpful, confirmed that the soy cheese Zpizza uses does indeed come from Schreiber Foods and contains casein. She also e-mailed me the ingredients which I will post here:

Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Casein, Modified Food Starch, Salt, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Aluminum, Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Artificial Color, Vitamin A, Palmitate, Magnesium Oxide, Zinc Oxide, Vitamin B12, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Ferric Orthophosphate, Folic Acid, Pyridioxne, HCL (Vitamin B6), Niacinamide, Thiamin, Mononotrate.

Now that it’s official, I want to add that Zpizza has a lot to offer vegans looking for a good pizza. While there was definitely some confusion and misinformation among most every level of Zpizza in regards to the ingredients of their soy cheese, keep in mind that this is a franchise and each store is essentially a small business. Some bad experiences at one store does not mean you will get the same treatment at another. Based on what I have heard, the owner of our Valencia Zpizza is a nice guy and I have no issues supporting them with my business.

Now, on to the food!

One thing I like about Zpizza is that they have lots of toppings normally not found at other pizza restaurants in Santa Clarita. Artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, Morning Star pizza crumbles, cremini mushrooms, avocado and kalamata olives to name a few. You can build you own pizza; SMALL (Z10): $6.95 plus $1.25 per ingredient, Medium (Z14): $12.95 plus $1.75 per ingredient, Large (Z18): $15.95 plus $2.00 per ingredient. Calzones are also offered for $6.95

I ordered a medium Berkley veggie with organic tomato sauce instead of the pesto and NO soy cheese. I also got a calzone with organic tomato sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, cremini mushrooms and eggplant.

If you look closely, you’ll see steam coming off my freshly baked no-cheese pizza.

Zpizza - Vegan Berkley

Zpizza - Vegan calzone

The crust is very good, I think I will try the whole wheat next time as I forgot about it while I was checking the place out. The organic tomato sauce is also good and the ingredients are fresh with enough variety to make an excellent cheese-less vegan pizza that won’t get tired so quickly. The prices are more on the expensive side, but it’s worth it for superior ingredients.

Zpizza is located in Valencia at the Promenade Town Center:
27015 McBean Pkwy
Valencia, CA 91355