A-Mazen: Milano Pizza adds vegan cheese, but is only just starting

About 15 years ago, I ordered a pizza one night from Milano Pizza (which has been around since 1976). Shortly afterwards I went vegan, which meant I would not order a pizza from a mainstream establishment for another decade.

In April 2015, I met Mazen Kassis, president of Milano Pizza, at the Live the Smart Way Expo. I suggest that he consider vegan cheese at Milano stores. He is polite, but has no idea what I’m talking about (some things are just ahead of their time!)  In January 2016, I write a now outdated guide to vegan pizza in Ottawa.

Fast forward to February 2018: Kassis gets ahold of some commercial vegan cheese and makes a pizza. Vegans learn about it, and the Facebook group Ottawa Vegans and Vegetarians goes crazy.  Over the next month or two, Kassis would provide frequent updates as to which stores now have the vegan cheese, along with other new vegan options that are being introduced, along with diligently responding to every single social media post being made about Milano’s vegan options.  People within the group joke that the group’s name should be changed to reflect the inundation of Milano’s posts. Perhaps most surprisingly, Kassis has emerged as a fierce and forceful advocate for vegan food options at restaurants, and is now foraying into the world of vegan beauty products.

I wanted to find out more from Kassis about his experience over the past few months.

Q: How did the idea enter your mind to begin offering vegan pizza at Milano? 

A: Usually I’m approached by suppliers wanting me to carry a product and that’s exactly what happened with the vegan cheese a couple of months ago. I gave the samples to my brother who owns the Baseline Milano location and asked him to offer a pizza to anyone asking for non-dairy cheese. I took a picture of the first vegan pizza and posted it on our FB page and it went viral.

The rest is history.

Q: Did you always intend to have it available chain wide?  

A; I hadn’t planned on it at all, let alone company wide. We have 37 locations and all but two are carrying vegan cheese.

Q: Tell me about how it has evolved into what it is now.

A: Speaking on vegan options, if there’s been any sort of evolution, the vegan community and more specifically the Facebook group Ottawa Vegans & Vegetarians, is the cause of it. Through all the comments mostly of gratitude and appreciation, I personally have been driven to bring more options to their tables. We now have five locations that have a vegan menu, which includes Pizza, Poutine, Wraps, Burgers and Platters. I hope to have all the Ottawa locations doing the same. However, I’ll be happy if I can keep at least vegan pizza on the menu for the out of town stores, where there hasn’t been as much demand.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges?

A: Personally speaking, my biggest challenge is making sure to limit the number of mistakes we make. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of confidence in the operators and we haven’t made many mistakes but this is way too important to me to leave it to confidence alone. I track all the vegan online orders and make contact with stores if I feel there’s a need to explain some part of it. I follow FB posts and comments and reply to all of them. And when there’s been the odd mistake, I go into damage control overdrive. I reach out to the store and speak to the owner to let them know what happened, what they need to do immediately and how they need to prevent this from happening again.

For the store owners and their cooks, I’m sure their biggest challenge is keeping up with my requests for more vegan items and ingredients. We’ve added more items in 6-7 weeks, than we have in years.

Introducing vegan garlic dip.

Q: What kind of feedback have you received?

A: The feedback has been overwhelming! I recently responded to someone who thanked me and added that I’d probably heard that 1,000 times already. The truth is, that we’ve been thanked more in these past two months, than all my 40 plus years in business.

Q: You’ve become a rockstar in Ottawa’s vegan community. What is that like for you? Did you expect it?

A: That’s too funny. I’m no rockstar. I’m Just someone who loves food and to cook. As the frontman for my company, I’ve always received a little attention but nothing like this. I like that people have praise for me because I know it means they’ve enjoyed their food. I would love it if they sent those praises to the owners and their staff. After all, I’m just the frontman, while they do a the work.

Of course I didn’t expect anything like this!

Q: Have there been any particularly meaningful moments for you through this journey?

A: OMGoodness whenever someone post or comments that they hadn’t eaten pizza in so many years and loved what they received. Wow! That’s happened at least 100 times. Last night I received an email from someone who picked up 5 pizza of which one was vegan. The emailer said they took the pizzas to a hospital across town and that I’ll never know how important that vegan pizza was.

I think I know why?

Q:  You’ve become an advocate for vegan options in restaurants and are taking the message to others. Can you tell me about that – what is motivating you? What are some of the connections you’re leveraging? What is the reception you’ve received?

A: In fact I have advocated for more vegan options.  As a member of Algonquin College Restaurant Hotel & Tourism advisory committee, I took up 1 hr of a 1 1/2 hr meeting, speaking on Milano Pizza’s experiences. The need for more vegan options/education in the school curriculum. I brought vegan pizzas to the hairstylist class and I spoke to 42 students about the need for vegan hair and beauty supplies and how they can benefit from this in their future endeavours.

My motivation is a combination of a sense of responsibility and a desire to lead. With 37 locations, I’m often the gateway for new products to get into the Ottawa market. Having all other pizzerias and restaurants use Vegegourmet cheese, is not more competition but rather a sense of pride for me.

Reception has been very positive. Algonquin College, pizzerias, restaurants and many more suppliers want to bring me their vegan samples. Stay tuned!

Q: How has this experience changed your perception of vegans, vegan food etc?

A; I don’t know what perception I had been about vegans? Maybe any perceptions that I had have been diminished to insignificance by all that I’ve learned in these past weeks. I would argue then and now, that even if I’m not vegan, why wouldn’t I appreciate that some people are? As for vegan food, I’ve always loved all fruits, vegetables and nuts and can honestly say that 90% of my meals have always been vegan. My breakfast is black coffee, a mix of walnuts & almonds with dates and or dry figs, 363 days per year.

Lunch is rare but always only salad and I am infamous for my Big Salad Dinner. No one would believe how big it is!

An exclusively vegan fryer at Milano.


Q: Do you have a favourite Milano vegan menu option?

A: My vegan cupcakes (not dessert) though not yet on the menu, are my favourite. I can’t wait for you to have them!

Q: Where do you see all of this going for you? Milano?

A: I think both I and Milano Pizza will play a smaller role in the future, as more pizzerias and restaurants get onboard with vegan options.

I’ll be happy if there’s enough demand to keep all these pizzerias and restaurants  motivated but I am fearful that it gets spread out too thin.

Even now, as Milano is receiving the biggest piece of the pie, some locations don’t get enough orders to consider a vegan menu. We’ll always have pizza but for most locations I can’t see keeping a vegan designated fryer, just to make several, if any vegan poutine, per day.

However, before that day comes when I’m being sidelined, I’ll have many more vegan options to offer!

Order from one of Milano’s locations!

Pamela Tourigny is the owner of Ottawa Veg Fest. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University, and  has worked in marketing, communications and public relations for 14 years, currently as a marketing and business consultant for food and wellness businesses.  She is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and ethical consumption, has been vegan for nearly 14 years.  She likes to run, play ultimate frisbee, hike with her dog, and jump on trampolines. www.pamelatourigny.com


Get your vegan ice cream on

Are you looking to get your vegan ice cream on this weekend (or every day!)?  Then this post is for you.

Back when I first went vegan in 2004 ice cream options in Ottawa were scarce.  There was a hard to find Tofutti option, and Rice Dream.  I thought about getting an ice cream maker, but the truth is I’m just not that industrious. So, there were a few ice cream-less years.  Things have changed a lot in 12 years!

Before too long So Delicious became available in Ottawa, and slowly but surely ice cream options began to expand.  Today So Delicious makes ice cream out of coconut milk, cashew milk, almond milk and soy milk (perhaps even more) and is widely available.  They also make ice cream sandwiches and bars.  Larry & Luna’s Coconut Bliss also arrived on the scene, offering decadent coconut milk based flavours. Ben & Jerry’s has launched vegan flavours in the US and it’s expected that Canada is next.  These days Tofutti and Rice Dream are rarer, but overall vegan ice creams have never been easier to find.

The most wildly popular by the tub vegan ice cream in Ottawa is no doubt Oat and Mill. This locally produced ice cream is made from oats, and has a wild array of flavours.  I’ve tried a few of them and they are on point. Oat and Mill sold cones at Ottawa Veg Fest and had a line up throughout the whole event. I managed to get mine before the doors even opened.

Unfortunately at this point Oat and Mill is only available by online ordering (with pick up points) and at the Carp and Westboro farmers markets on Saturday and at Lansdowne on Sunday… but I have reason to believe that is going to change!

oat and mill at VF

The past couple of years have also seen the growth of vegan ice cream being available at ice cream shops and restaurants.   Thimblecakes has led the way, offering by the pint or scoop coconut based ice cream out of its Centretown shop. It’s dairy free, gluten free, and nut and egg free, and made in small batches daily using seasonal local organic flavours as much as possible. It’s a special treat to be able to walk into a shop and walk out with vegan ice cream in a waffle cone.

In a very exciting development, Strawberry Blonde recently began offering vegan soft serve ice cream!  It’s soy based, and free of gluten, dairy, eggs and nuts. So far they have offered strawberry and vanilla, and vanilla / coffee bean flavours. They are having some challenges with keeping it in stock though – it’s been so wildly popular that they keep selling out!  Best to check their Facebook or to call ahead to avoid disappointment. Of course, even if they are out of soft serve, they still have plenty of delicious treats for you to enjoy.

vegan soft serve
Photo by Josée of http://vegan-bananas.blogspot.ca/

Since it opened this spring, Little Jo Berry’s has also had ice cream options – they serve Oat and Mill.  Milkshakes are on their regular menu, and sometimes sundaes are offered on special occasions.  I recently enjoyed one:


There are a couple of new players to the ice cream game:  Recently opened Moo Shu Ice Cream opened in Centretown in mid-July, and has a vegan chocolate ice cream option.  Because it’s just opening they are struggling a bit with supply and demand, so it may be prudent to give them a bit of time to get up and running.

And it has been reported that Mantovani 1946  in the Byward Market (Murray Street) has gelato options that are not only vegan, but also aren’t fruit based.  According to Camille Labchuk, “They have vegan gelato options that aren’t just fruit sorbets! Vanilla and tiramisu, plus more to come. I went in last night and they said consumer demand for the vegan gelato is so strong that they got cleaned out as soon as their vegan flavours arrived, so they’re ordering more and will expand the flavour options.” It may be best to call ahead to determine availability.

Many gelato spots in Ottawa have a vegan gelato or sorbet option – you can find one near you on the Vegan Eats Ottawa Guide.

I know that there are probably other one-off options that I don’t know about – if you know about them please share by posting a comment!  What’s your favourite kind of vegan ice cream?

IMG_1493Get Pamela Tourigny’s no-fuss recipes when you sign up for the Vegan Eats Ottawa newsletter here.  Pamela is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.


Vegan Restaurant Takeover! Rawlicious opening in downtown Ottawa in April

 Ottawa’s healthy and vegan eaters have another reason to celebrate:  On April 23, vegan “healthy fast food” restaurant Rawlicious will open its doors in downtown Ottawa at 381 Cooper Street, just off of Bank Street.

2016-04-01 14.39.51

Rawlicious is the third new entirely-vegan food establishment to open in Ottawa in recent months (Little Jo Berry’s opened in March, and Grow Your Roots opens in May/June), and reflects the growing demand for vegan and plant-based alternatives in the capital, driven by the increasing number of healthy and mindful eaters.

 Rawlicious currently has several locations within the Greater Toronto Area, and this is its first foray into Eastern Ontario.  Its menu is filled with healthy takes on classic favourites such as pizza, wraps, nachos and pasta.

Ottawa resident Natalie Papineau is the franchisee of the 25 seat establishment.  I asked her for a sneak peek!

2016-01-28 17.33.19PT:  Rawlicious is already pretty well-known in the GTA. How did it come about that you decided to open one in Ottawa?

NP:  I had been looking for a small business to open for a while but wanted something that spoke to me! Something that would actually be good for the community, something I would enjoy running on my own,  and preferable something  food related as I pretty much live day to day thinking about what I’m going to eat next! Rawlicious hit every mark for me, and I thought many would love to have it here in Ottawa!

PT: What was it about Rawlicious specifically that appealed to you?

NP: Rawlicious is such an amazing small restaurant that I think everyone should get a chance to try! Many might hear Vegan or Raw and think it’s not for them, but everyone should really give it a chance. Rawlicious has truly mastered great tasting food that does not way heavy after you eat it. You know when you decide to head out for nice meal that may consist of pasta with a heavy sauce and then a big dessert after wards…you know how you feel afterwards…well at Rawlicious you can come and eat a four course meal and leave feeling amazing! Not to mention fruits and vegetables are so vibrant and colorful that all of our dishes look like a work of art.

PT: What will be some of the things that people can look forward to when you open? Specialties?

NP: Rawlicious isn’t just another healthy restaurant! We will help you live the raw vegan life style at home if that is what you’re looking for. We offer juice cleanses, and raw food cleanses to help detox your body, or perhaps your looking to shed a few pounds. We will also offer cooking classes, seminars, and entertainment.

2016-03-22 14.53.51
The bay window.

PT: Tell us about the vibe at Rawlicious.

NP: The Rawlicious vibe is definitely a relaxed, comfortable clean feeling. The original Rawlicious that opened in Toronto’s Junction back in 2008 had a fun table where you can kick off your shoes and feel like you’re sitting in your living room. We are trying to recreate the same Zen vibe.  You can do the same in our front bay window: kick off your shoes and get cozy with pillows and relax….no chairs required!. Also to bring warmth into the space we have added an electric fireplace. You will find fresh flowers and candles to provide a truly warm welcoming atmosphere!

PT: Tell us a bit more about you!

NP:   I have done a lot of things in my 33 years of life! I love trying new things and consider myself to be very easy going.  My background consists of make-up artistry, esthetics and hair styling. After living in the tropics for a few years I kicked the make-up to the curb and start living a very different lifestyle. When living in the heat all year round all 12309969_10153365659268165_8421550816632740544_oyou really want to eat is fruits and vegetables so I started experimenting with raw vegan lifestyle, achieving a weekly cleanse of only fruits and veggies which I accomplished without cheating 😉 I also become much more active with swimming, hiking, walking, and spending lots of time outdoors!

I love food, experimenting with healthy ingredients to create great tasting dishes! And now I am just thrilled to bring Rawlicious to Ottawa so everyone can have a little appreciate and enjoy a little Raw Vegan into their lifestyle.

2016-04-01 11.16.18
Natalie Papineau

Additional Rawlicious Facts:

  • Rawlicious is Organic
  • Rawlicious is environmentally friendly
  • Rawlicious serves only filtered water
  • Menu consists of smoothies, juices, appetizers, mains, desserts, and offers catering.




Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the topics of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.  Sign up to receive her monthly e-newsletter here.

Ottawa’s long-suffering West Enders finally get a vegan restaurant

Have you heard the news?  After a few years of selling her wares at farmer’s markets and through catering, Melanie Boudens has finally signed a lease to open her restaurant, Grow Your Roots.

Except, unlike virtually all other veg restaurants in the area, this one will be in Kanata. Downtowners will have a bit of a trek, but no doubt suburban Ottawa vegans, vegetarians and veg-friendly people  will rejoice.

And yes, she will be serving her beer battered deep fried avocados…along with a vegan eggs benedict on weekends. Woo hoo!

I asked Melanie for all of the details – check out the Q&A below!

Processed with MOLDIV

PT: Describe the Grow Your Roots restaurant concept for readers.  What is it?? 

MB: I’ve wanted my own restaurant since I was 12. I use to draw up blueprints and designs dreaming how it would look. I want the Café to feel very organic and raw. We’ll have a mixture of industrial, rustic and natural elements. I’ve been collecting a lot of antiques from family members, friends and shops over the years so I’m super excited to finally have a permanent home for a lot of those pieces. There’s something about a cozy little Café that I’ve always just adored, so I really want to bring that friendly, comfortable vibe into the space. It will be the perfect place to have a coffee with an old friend for hours chatting, have a great lunch, grab something quick to go or do some work on your laptop while eating some GYR treats!

PT: Tell us the GYR story. How did you get started? What motivated you?  How has GYR evolved?

MB: I made a decision a long time ago that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing something I was truly passionate about. Believe it or not I use to be a Train Conductor for Canadian Pacific Railway – the idea all started one night when I was in my hotel waiting to go home from a trip. I sent a text to my mom “ What do you think of me starting a Farmers Market stand with my Vegan treats?” And so it began!

My husband built me a wicked Farmers Market stand, I purchased my business license, practiced my cooking, perfected my vegan doughnuts and within months I started selling at the Carp Famers Market. I was overwhelmed by how successful it was and how much people were loving everything. Eventually I had people asking me about Catering, which I was thrilled about, and I also started selling things like my burgers and desserts to local restaurants.

Having such cool, friendly customers week after week is definitely a big motivator. It was really just a push in the right direction to get to the point I am now.

When I first started GYR I knew it would be based on the same reasons why I went vegan. For the animals, the planet and for peoples’ health.  So that’s really been my motivation to keep going. I’d love to see a community built around GYR and those three fundamentals. I think making something bigger than what your eyes see (the food, coffee, desserts), is what really gets people excited and wanting to do more regarding the grand scheme of things.

PT: What have been the challenges with taking this from a farmer’s market stall to a restaurant?

MB:  This past year has certainly been very challenging and testing. To be honest, I think the hardest part has been having to convince people that as a 25-year-old, yes I am serious, yes I know what I’m doing and yes, I’m determined! I have very high expectations of myself and what I want my business to become, so sometimes I need to step back and tell myself to slow down and start with the basics. I’d definitely say that having such an amazing support system from my husband, my family and close friends has been everything I needed through this journey. I have a lot of friends within the industry too who have helped me out so much with advice from everything to suppliers, financials and so on.

PT: What is special/unique about GYR? What are its specialities?  How will it complement the existing vegan offerings in Ottawa?

MB: Before I went vegan I wasn’t really much of a cook, so I basically started from scratch when I started teaching myself how to cook and bake vegan. I really love taking the classic favourites and ‘veganizing’ them. I want the menu to look familiar, but with a twist. Things like Fruit & Granola parfaits, but with house made cultured coconut yoghurt and granola that’s loaded with nutrition. I spent a little while perfecting my Tofu Egg Salad sandwiches too, getting tons of approval from vegans and many non vegans. So again, a classic Café staple, but vegan. There’s definitely going to be lots of healthy options on the menu, but it wouldn’t be Grow Your Roots if I didn’t throw in some comforting indulgences in there too….so yes, the Beer Battered Avocados with Cilantro Lime dip will most definitely be on the menu!

Melanie from Grow Your Roots.
Melanie from Grow Your Roots.

I’m also excited to bring some really unique, fun doughnut flavors to the dessert case too, alongside cookies, squares, cakes and more. I’ve tried my best to accommodate people with allergies and sensitivities from the beginning of the business, so there will be plenty of gluten free options as well as soy-free and low oil. I want to make sure there is something for everyone to enjoy.

To compliment lunch and breakfast, I’m bringing in some really great locally pressed fresh juices, locally roasted coffee that’s fair trade and solar powered, and a big selection of amazing loose leaf teas that will be available by the cup and to take home as well!

Catering has gone really well for the past year, so I’m looking forward to building that up and starting new relationships with new customers. I’ve been catering for my business and other business for quite a few years now, so I think I carry with me a lot of experience and knowledge in that department. It’s very different than serving customers from a sit down Café, but it’s something I really love.

There’s definitely some exceptional vegan spots in Ottawa, it’s cool that everyone brings something different to the table for different occasions. I think I specialize in simple, classic items so I feel that GYR will fill that gap in Ottawa. I also want to provide a small selection for take home things like my pot pies, burgers, sausages and such so people can keep them in the freezer for easy at home cooking!

PT: Tell us about your new location.  What can people expect?  When are you opening?

MB: The Café will be located at 474 Hazeldean Road. I’ve had many people doubt my choice to open in the west end, saying I should aim for more trendy areas like Hintonburg, etc., but I come from Perth, so for all the people living just on the outside of Ottawa, or in the west end areas like Kanata and Barhaven, I know what it’s like to have few options for vegan meals and desserts. It’s been really important to me while searching for a space this past year to make sure I was bringing vegan options closer to those who don’t currently have anything. Hopefully too, it will lay down a foundation and encourage other west end restaurants to add more plant-based options to their menus (other than boring salads!) and build more of a small business community providing more places to go other than just franchise spots.

We’re hoping to fit in 20-25 seats, a substantial coffee bar and a great little take-out area too. I really enjoy creating breakfast, lunch and snack options so that’s exactly what it will be! We’ll be open typical Café hours, in the morning around 7:30 am and closed around 5:30 pm. In the future I’d like to extend the hours into the evening a couple of nights a week, once we’re all settled in. I picture doing fun classes for cooking, personal health, and more in the future too.

I’m going to have a wicked Sunday Brunch menu available, so that will be really exciting to launch – expect a delicious Faux Eggs Benny!

We’re starting out with a completely empty, open space right now, so we’ve got a lot of renovations to do. Once we get further into the renos I will have an exact opening date, but for now everyone can expect a late Spring opening. In the meantime, I will be taking orders/Catering until the beginning of May and will then continue again once we are open after a couple of weeks.

gyr wraps

PT: Tell us about you!

MB: I really enjoy living outside of the city, it’s where I grew up. To me the best down time spent outside of the kitchen is by the lake, or going for a walk in the bush with my dog Nola. I’m really close with my family and my husband’s family, so we spend a lot of time getting together for dinners, hanging out & having parties together… I’m well known for a good jig in the middle of the living room! Aside from my dreams of opening the café, I also exercise my attempted dreams of having a farm. Somehow I’ve convinced my husband to let me bring home two rescued cats and a pot bellied pig so far, although I sense we’re at a cap for now-hah!

I love meeting new people and creating relationships with the customers too, so it will be fun to be able to do that at the Café as we grow our roots!

PT: Anything else?

MB: I’ve been creating the menu and showing it off to close friends these past two years; but I love hearing back from customers. So if there’s anything that anyone who is reading this would love to see on the menu – please shoot me a message on the Grow Your Roots Facebook page and let me know!!

Interested in vegan cooking classes? Check out Eat Your Veggies Institute for the spring class schedule.


The inside scoop on Little Jo Berry’s new vegan coffee shop

By now you may have heard the news: in just two and half weeks, Ottawa will be getting its very own entirely vegan coffee shop/bakery/take out counter, operated by former Auntie Loo head baker Josephine Masterson (aka Little Jo Berry, after whom the coffee shop is named!)

Little Jo Berry’s is opening at 1305 Wellington St. W.  on March 19. I spoke to Josephine about her endeavour.

PT: Tell us what visitors can expect when they visit Little Jo Berry’s!

LJB: Our concept for decor was very minimal and clean with a few retro throwbacks, but over all we wanted to create a space that would work as a perfect canvas for our treats and coffee. We had seen so many spaces, but what we liked about 1305 Wellington was that it was an empty shell. The floors weren’t even done. My brother, a plumber and all around tradesman, immediately got to work and we completely designed and created our own space. We built the space with our own hands, it was so fun and personal to our vision.

LJB1As we built we had so many small businesses and friends reaching out to help supply us with things we may need. My business mentor and close friend Julia Graham, owner of The Quirky Carrot, reached out about equipment. Her father was about to retire, he had owned a bakery, Fred’s Bread in Kingston, for over 20 years. He wanted to know if I wanted to come up to Kingston and check out some of his showcases and work tables. So we drove up the next day.  It was so beautiful, all these gorgeous oak tables and shelves that he had built his business on. We were very luck to have access to these. We are so fortunate to have them in our shop now; when you come in, you will see these showcases. He had those commissioned over 20 years ago and they found their way to LJB’s.

PT: Tell us about your path to opening a vegan cafe. 

Jo (left) with Kate, also formerly of Auntie Loo’s Treats.

LJB:  Even when I was a kid I was starting all these ridiculous businesses. I remember being like 10 years old and starting a dog-sitting company and my parents being so proud and supportive. I hung flyers all over town and I imagined that was it, I had done it started my own business. The first call I got was a lady looking to have someone take her two huge dogs for a whole week. Obviously, I was in over my head and that business didn’t quite pan out. But after that it was a babysitting business, I was always cooking up the next idea.

When I was 20, I started doing Farmer’s Markets as Little Jo Berry’s, selling different raw, vegan treats and snacks. I grew up in the kitchen, cooking and visiting long hours with my dad. So creating recipes and learning about new ingredients came very naturally to me. As I did the Farmer’s Markets I realized I wanted to start baking as a career. That’s when I got in touch with Auntie Loo’s treats and how I landed my job there. I worked with them for four incredible years. Made my way to head baker. It’s where I learnt how to run a happy, positive kitchen.

After Auntie Loo’s shut down we were all devastated. It was shocking. My head was a mess, I imagined moving away or spending some time abroad working in some little shops. The day after it closed, I had a visit from my brother Jimmy, and he offered to help me build a kitchen and I immediately said yes. The next day I started a business plan and we began to look at spaces. It just felt right.

PT: What challenges have you run into? What have you learned through this process?

LJB2LJB:  There have been less challenges so far than I thought there would be. I think having a rich background in small business made me used to all the ups and downs, so I suppose they became a standard and I became less sensitive to them. I also think the warm welcome and all the support I receive on a daily basis makes this transition to business owner much easier for me. I can’t imagine not having so many great business relationships already formed to rely on. Any time I message anyone for advice, they are so excited to help and guide me. It’s really special so far, and I think that is a really big obstacle for most people.

I think right now, where I am, the biggest obstacle is leaving a comfortable work environment. I’m finishing out my last week at my barista job where I work with all my buds. I think it’s surreal to think about laughing and paling around one week to having my world completely flipped and owning the shop the next week. It feels like this huge step, but I can’t wait to take it!

PT:  What is special/unique about LJBs? What are its specialities?

LJB:  I think for us, what feels special is the excitement to play in the kitchen. To be able to keep a rotating menu, and try fresh treats and lunches. To be able to bake thing we would want to eat, so we can be as excited as the customers coming in for them. We think it’s really special to stay enthusiastic about your products and to be proud of your offerings. When people walk into a bakery or coffee shop they are always surrounded by wonder and excitement. We want to be able to match that feeling and validate that experience. So the unique thing for us is being able to truly get revved up about our own treats and not get stagnant. Obviously we plan to cater to as many different eating styles as we can. We have a tons of experience in alternative ways of baking including dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, etc. So we want to fill as many tummies as we can.

We also feel like our coffee is going to be very special. We want to create a positive mentality about the relationship between our customers and their baristas. We are using the slogan “Appreciate your Neighbourhood Baristas” as a narrative in our shop. Coffee culture is so important; having good coffee is literally the best thing. Trusting your barista, playing around with different brews and types of espresso is something people should feel comfortable with and engaged by. We are working on getting to know a few different roasters and suppliers for our shop who can support this concept.

PT:  What is your vision for its future?  For its role within Ottawa?

LJB6LJB:  Our vision for the shop…We have a really dreamy idea of where we see the shop going. Having my own place was always the big idea growing up. But I imagined the day to day through the relationships I would form. I envisioned it being more about my interactions with my patrons than anything else. I always worked in coffee shops, so I’ve always had that experience. Getting to know the regulars, watching kids grow up, seeing relationships form.  So naturally, it is very important for us to create that atmosphere in our space. We want our shop to grow with the community and be shaped by its regulars.  We want our space to feel like a neighbourhood space, a shop you feel warm and tender about. Having that bond with customers and that loyalty is the most important thing for us at LJB’s.

PT:  Help us get to know you!

LJB3LJB: I have the two cutest pups in the world, they take up the majority of my time. We get loads of time in cuddling.  Harris and Chugs, best boys in the world, never behaved a day in their life. I’m a homebody outside of work, I literally have the greatest group of friends. So mostly in my off time I like to spend it at home with them eating and visiting.


Little Jo Berry’s opens on March 19! Take out counter, some seating, and special orders, wholesale and catering.


Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options.  Sign up to receive her monthly e-newsletter here.

Pizza Party! A Guide to Vegan Pizza in Ottawa

Pizza may just be the vegan holy grail.  It was only a few years ago that edible cheese substitutions became commercially available, but conventional pizzerias were not early adopters of these.

So while vegans could now make pizza at home, many were left yearning for authentic pizzeria crust and oven baked goodness.  We had a brief period of glory a few years ago when one Little Italy restaurant adopted Daiya with unbridled enthusiasm, only to have the restaurant go out of business (unrelated to its vegan pizza) a few weeks later.

In the past year or so in particular Ottawa’s vegan pizza scene has really taken off, and options are growing.  In this post I’ll share some of these.

1069 Bank St.


The newest addition to Ottawa’s vegan pizza scene is pretty fantastic. Panago is a vegan-friendly pizza chain that has just opened its first Ottawa franchise in Old Ottawa South.  It offers Daiya as a free upgrade on personal pizzas (with a nominal fee for larger sizes), many vegan toppings, and even a gluten-free crust that is vegan.  They keep a cheat sheet behind the counter that clearly identifies which of its menu items and toppings are vegan.  The crust is what I always dreamed of during my many pizza-less years, and their topping application is generous.

This is not a sit down restaurant though; it is a take out counter with a few stools, à la Pizza Pizza.   But if take out is what you want, Panago is an excellent option. Prices start at $4.75 for a base personal pizza; my husband bought a well-topped large pizza for less than $20 that provided him with four meals.

86 Murray Street

fiazza pizza

Fiazza, located in the Byward Market, also offers Daiya cheese on its personal sized pizzas (which are bigger than the ones at Panago), however it is a $3 upgrade.  It also offers a variety of out of the ordinary toppings, such as roasted broccoli, and artichokes.  The personal pizzas are pricier than Panago’s, but are about 50% larger.

In the summer Fiazza has a lovely open air dining area; in the winter it is enclosed and still quite lovely.  It’s a great option if you want to go out with a group, as there is plenty of seating, but the bar stool seating also makes it comfortable if you’re dining alone. You can order Fiazza for delivery (if you live in the right areas) through Skip the Dishes.  They also carry Strawberry Blonde desserts.  Pro Tip: Fiazza’s gluten-free crust is NOT vegan.

Bread & Sons

Popular with the downtown lunchtime crowd, Bread & Sons offers eclectic thin crust vegan pizza by the slice. Cheeseless, but with creative topping combinations.  Vegans have raved about it for years. The downside?  Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and very limited seating in the small shop. Pro Tip: This is likely the healthiest pizza option on this list, aside from La Belle Verte’s raw pizza.


Pizza Pizza



Good ol’ Pizza Pizza. Its traditional trust and sauce are confirmed to be vegan, and it has many of the standard toppings that you’d expect from a mainstream chain, and even some more sophisticated ones. NEW: As of February 2017, Pizza Pizza offers vegan cheese from a company called Violife as a no-cost upgrade!!  I do not have the patience or skill to make my own crust, and I’ve always enjoyed Pizza Pizza’s white flour gluteny goodness as a special treat.   Pro Tip: The whole wheat crust contains honey, and the gluten-free contains gelatin.

La Belle Verte
166 rue Eddy, Gatineau

This is not your typical white flour and tomato sauce pizza.  La Belle Verte pizza is raw, with a dehydrated sunflower seed, flax seed and sundried tomato crust. Toppings are largely dehydrated, and they have house-made “cheez” sauces.  Pro tip: This may not be the pizza to serve your “meat lovers pizza”-loving family member.

Little Jo Berry’s
Wellington West

Little Jo’s has pizza available every Friday! Buy it by the slice, or the whole pie. Ordering in advance is recommended. She has crazy and unique flavours like “tater tot.”  Follow her Instagram of Facebook to see what she has available each week!

What’s your favourite Ottawa vegan pizza spot?

Don’t feel like pizza? Check out the Vegan Eats Ottawa guide for other options.


Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options. Contact her here.  

Patacone Fever! Plantain patties in 6 easy steps.

Have you ever purchased a new kind of vegetable or fruit at the grocery store, fully intending to use it, but then never get up the nerve to do so?

Maybe you forgot you had it… or perhaps you did remember that you had it, but didn’t feel confident enough to try to use it.

I’ve done this a few times with plantains, usually after eating them somewhere and loving them.  I’ll go out, buy a couple of them, and on my counter they will sit. I have rationalized that I don’t know how to cook them, apparently momentarily forgetting that the smartphone in my hand has a browser and that it takes approximately five seconds to access google.

My recent trip to Costa Rica has invoked a serious plantain obsession; more specifically, patacone fever. Patacones are basically smushed up fried green plantains.  I had them served with guacamole, black beans, and pico de gallo. I ate them nearly every day of my vacation.

sushi and plantain
Patacones from El Sano Banana (at rear).

When I got home I added plantains to the grocery list, and my husband returned with two glorious looking yellow plantains.  I was going to attempt patacones when I realized that all recipes online said DO NOT USE YELLOW PLANTAINS. (The internet says that these will be perfect to eat as pan-fried plantain medallions when they are almost black.)

So off I went to find some green ones. It felt counter-intuitive – I hate unripe bananas, after all. But it’s actually essential that the plantains be unripe so that the patacones remain a savoury dish. If you use ripe or even semi-ripe plantains the patacones become sweet… and that’s not what you want in a patacone!!

Here’s how you can make your own patacones in six simple steps.

My own homemade Patacones.

Patacone Fever Plantains!
(Serves two)


  • 2-3 green plantains
  • Salt
  • Paprika
  • Cooking oil
  • Your choice of guac, salsa, beans


  1. Buy green plantains.
  2. Cut the tips off each end.  Using a sharp knife, cut a line down one side of the plantain (try to avoid piercing the plantain inside), and then pry off the peel with your fingers. Cut each plantain width-wise into 3-4 pieces.
  3. Heat up some cooking oil in a pan on medium heat, and fry the plantains until they are golden and softened.
  4. One at a time, move the pieces over to a waxed paper surface (i.e. cutting board) and then place another piece of waxed paper on top and smush it, forming a patty that’s about 1/3-1/2 inch thick.
  5. Return to the pan (adding sufficient oil as needed) and fry until golden on each side.  Remove from heat and place on paper towel to dab off the excess oil.
  6. Sprinkle with salt and paprika, and serve with refried black beans, guacamole, and/or salsa/pico!


Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options. Contact her here.  


Vegan in Montezuma Costa Rica

Last fall I knew I needed a vacation, and it needed to be warm.  But I had mostly heard horror stories about how vegans would starve at all  inclusive sun resorts, with only fruit and salad to eat.

pamela costa rica 2016
This place makes me so happy.

So I googled vegan and vacation, and it let me to the website for Ylang Ylang Beach Resort in Montezuma Costa Rica. From there I discovered El Sano Banano village motel at a fraction of the cost. Both accommodations offered extensive vegan options on their menus, so that’s how I ended up visiting – and falling in love with – Montezuma Costa Rica when I visited in January 2015.

Fast forward to Dec. 30, 2015. Ottawa had a foot of snow dumped on it, and I was outside shovelling for hours. I decided that I had to go back, and on Jan. 6 I was en route.

There are many reasons to love Montezuma, aside from the food.  It’s extremely remote – it took me three flights and a five hour shuttle through the Costa Rican country side to get there.  It has a 1980s small town vibe; as a small town girl it is familiar and reassuring.  The beach is practically vacant, and the climate (at least when I’ve been) is deliriously warm.  The wild (and domestic) animals are adorable. People are friendly, and while there’s intermittent wifi access, you can truly disconnect if you want to.

But, I’m going to tell you about some of the highlights of the food I ate. As a vegan or vegetarian, you will be well taken care of here.  There are no fake meats or cheeses, but the simple dishes manage to be creative, satisfying, and nourishing.

Firstly, the fruit is off the hook.


This was at the hotel in Liberia, but I was treated to an amazing pile of fruit every morning at El Sano Banano (they also gave us toast). Oh and the coffee?  It is so good that I can even drink it black, which I can’t ever do otherwise.

Some of the food is just adorable.  This is the caterpillar maki from Ylang Ylang.


And these are the Namaste Spring Rolls, with Casada in the background.


Here is the Casada up close. Casada is a typical Costa Rican dish that’s normally comprised of rice, beans, vegetables, meat and a fried egg. We had the fried egg and meat omitted, and asked them to pile on the veggies. (El Sano Banano has a vegetarian version, made vegan by omitting cheese and sour cream).


Then there was the coconut curry soup (Ylang Ylang)…


The decadent vegan nachos…


And gorgeous fruity cocktails and smoothies, made from fresh fruit and not chemical tasting mixes.


And both my travel companion, Laura, and I, became afflicted with what we called “patacone fever.” Patacones are mashed up fried plantain cakes that are served with guacamole, refried black beans, and pico de gallo.  (See them at rear):

sushi and plantain

And another favourite tradition became “pudding time.” This is the vegan chocolate mousse available at both El Sano Banano and Ylang Ylang.

pudding time

We also ate such delicacies as vegan pizza (Café Organico) and blackened tofu steak in mango sauce (Ylang Ylang).

I feel a connection with this place that’s deeper than food, and will certainly be back before long.  If you’re looking for a sun vacation that is also a culinary experience, consider beautiful Montezuma, Costa Rica.


Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options. Contact her here.  

3 Reasons to Never Settle for Salad

It can be tough dining out as a vegan or vegetarian.  While it’s infinitely better in 2016 than it was even  just a few short years ago, many vegans can relate to the fear of being dragged to mainstream restaurant and having nothing to eat but salad.  It’s happened to all of us at some point.

It isn’t just that salad is so damn boring; that’s bad enough. It’s also that many garden variety salads are insufficiently nutritional or satisfying, and that a sad looking pile of greens inevitably results in pitying looks, raised eyebrows, and sometimes even an unwanted line of questioning.   And at the end of it all, you’re stuck eating… salad.

A slide from my Marketing Veganism presentation, Toronto Veg Food Fest, Sept. 12, 2015.

It’s my belief that we should never, ever settle for salad when eating out, except for perhaps under the most challenging of circumstances, when it absolutely cannot be avoided. Or if you have an irrational attachment to iceberg lettuce.

Here’s why I think it’s important for us to #SayNoToSalad:

  1. It reinforces negative stereotypes about the extreme limitations of veganism.  I know, nobody wants to feel like a “pain” or an inconvenience to a restaurant or our dining partner. But the reality is that every time we cede to the salad, we are allowing people continue to believe that vegan food is dull, boring, tasteless, and unfulfilling. We are giving people permission to maintain their preconceived notions that prevent them from seeing veganism – or at least moving towards it – as a viable option for them.I have been served some pretty terrific vegan meals at work functions; meals that left my companions a bit jealous that they had not had that option. We ALL have the option, we just need to assert it. We can’t expect omnivores to ask for off-menu vegan food if we won’t even make the request.  Don’t be afraid to ask for more – it’s a form of vegan outreach.
  2. It doesn’t tell restaurants that there’s a demand for better options. Imagine you’re a restauranteur, and the only thing on your menu is a garden salad.  People order it, and they order your meat dishes, so that tells you that you’re doing just fine with your offering. If we want restaurants to provide better options for us, they need to be aware that they are in demand. Every time we quietly choke down a salad, we are signalling that salad is sufficient.  Many restaurants are happy to accommodate “special diets” with plenty of advance notice and when requested nicely; we will always be a “special diet” if we do not make demand known. And it’s only by getting these more appealing options on a menu that non-vegans will see – and order – them.
  3. You will become the stereotypical malnourished vegan.Okay that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you end up eating out frequently for your job or with your friends, you are going to be spending a lot of your time very, very hungry if all you’re eating is garden salad!  Not only that, but while greens are definitely part of a balanced diet, they are not themselves a balanced diet. You need to ensure that you’re eating protein and starches in order to function both physically and mentally.
salad someecard
On point.

I know,  it can be hard to speak up and ask for more. Sometimes it just feels easier to hide behind the menu and make the easy choice. I believe though that if we ever want to see vegan options on every menu, and omnivores feeling empowered to order those for themselves, we have to take the lead for creating demand.

Most businesses exist to meet a need. If the need is there, they will adapt to  it.  But most businesses have to see that the need exists to initiate change, and every time we settle for the garden salad we are hampering progress!

(For tips on eating out as a vegan, see my post on that subject here.)



Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs, and with restaurants on adapting their menus to introduce plant-based options. Contact her here.  

7 tips to become a vegan boss (or, to just get started)

2015 was a watershed year for the vegan lifestyle – it has never been easier or more acceptable to avoid eating animals and animal ingredients.

The plight of animals is now on the radar of most people; the science has never been clearer that eating more plants – and less (or no) animals – is better for everyone’s health; and the documentary Cowspiracy revealed the breathtakingly negative impact of animal agriculture on the environment.

If you’re someone who has had an awakening of sorts during 2015, perhaps the start of a new year has you thinking about what you’ve learned, and the changes you’d like to make to align your actions with your beliefs.

So where to start? While I want nothing more than for each and every one of you to go vegan today – and I truly hope that’s where your consciousness will take you – I also know that we all have a different starting line and that it can be difficult to overhaul our lives in one fell swoop.

Here are my tips to get started:

Photo by Kate Fleming, Vegan Eats Ottawa.
Plate of food at The Green Door – Main Street, Ottawa. Photo by Kate Fleming.

1. Focus on creating new habits to replace old ones – one at a time. Instead of approaching it from the vantage point of what you’re giving up, view it as an opportunity to introduce new and more positive habits into your life. Mentally walk through a typical day in your life, and identify one by one what habits you want to shift, and then one by one create your new habits.  Target the low hanging fruit first – the easiest changes – and move onto the more complicated stuff once you’ve gotten into your groove, if you aren’t prepared to drop everything at once.

2. Visit a vegan or vegetarian restaurant – examine the menu – and find inspiration. Ask staff members about the food. Try things you’ve never heard of before.  Take a friend and share several dishes. If you go to a place like The Table or The Green Door you can try a little bit of many different dishes.  Find places to try on the Vegan Eats Ottawa restaurant guide.  If you’re from elsewhere, check out Happy Cow. It has listings for all over the world!

Tofu roti thai sandwich at La Belle Verte, rue Eddy, Gatineau.

3. Buy yourself a vegan cookbook. Or subscribe to a few vegan blogs. Even if you don’t follow the recipes to a T, spend some time poring over the multitude of resources that exist to generate some meal ideas. Then, write them down. And put them on your fridge. And when you write your grocery list, refer to it. Vegan Eats Ottawa has a running Facebook feed of food and information that helps make it easier.

4. Always be prepared. It is so much easier to make better choices when you do a bit of advance planning. Carry some healthy vegan purse snacks with you (can’t go wrong with a Vega bar!) when you’re on the go, and ensure that you do a good stocking up at the grocery store before launching into a busy week. If you have vegan food on-hand, you’re far less likely to “cheat.” (Here are my tips for eating out as a vegan.)

5. Don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake. Just brush yourself off and keep heading in the right direction. Making one mistake does not mean you might as well not even try. It means you made one mistake. Don’t let it define you.  On that note, don’t sweat the small stuff, and also try to avoid adding a lengthy list of additional restrictions to your diet.  All those will do is complicate things and make your transition more difficult.  Keep it simple.

With Fred, owner of Flavours of the Caribbean, Nelson St. Ottawa.
With Fred, owner of Flavours of the Caribbean, Nelson St. Ottawa.

6. Find like-minded people to provide support. Maybe they already exist within your social circle. Maybe you still need to meet them. Join groups and follow pages on social media that are specifically about the lifestyle you want to learn more about. Join your local vegetarian association and attend one of its events.  Ask people who have already been vegetarian or vegan for years for their advice and recommendations. They would LOVE to help.

6. Remember why you’re doing it. When faced with social pressure, or temptation, keep your motivation front and centre and let it guide you towards choices that are better for the animals, the environment, and your own conscience.

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IMG_1493Pamela Tourigny is an Ottawa-based expert on the subjects of veganism and vegan advocacy, sustainability, and ethical consumerism.  She also consults with  business clients with their marketing, communications and public relations needs. Contact her here.