“Eat Pizza, Not Animals”: Petersburg Vegan Pizzeria Trying to Survive till Summer
April 23, 2020
Mediazona has been working and growing for over two years thanks to the support of its readers. Today, small businesses need help, and that is what our “Solidarity” column is all about. Founder Daniil Petukhov, a man with a tattoo of a cabbage on his stomach, tells us how the vegan pizzeria Däner Pizza Spot has been doing during the lockdown in Petersburg.
How to help: order pizza and drinks for delivery or pick up the order yourself.
I’m a committed vegan: I haven’t eaten meat for ten years, and I haven’t eaten any animal products for about nine years. I won’t go into questions of ethics, ecology and health. Let’s just say that when I see an apple, I want to eat it. When I see a chicken, I don’t want to. And I’m glad that I don’t have to kill anyone to be fed and happy. I also have matching tattoos—a pig on my chest, near my heart, and a cabbage on my stomach.
I’ve never wanted to earn much. I’ve always believed that the main thing is to cover your basic needs so you have money for food and travel. So in April 2018, when I rented a room on Nevsky, I had to somehow pay for it and feed myself. So I started making vegan pizza at home, right in the kitchen. Friends called, and I would take the pizza downstairs for them to pick up.
A few months later, I moved to the Llamas Vegan Shop, which my friends had opened. We split the rent, and I set up a kitchen in part of the space and made pizza and focaccia there for a little less than a year. Then I realized I wanted to open a full-fledged restaurant and I knew exactly what I wanted to cook—Neapolitan vegan pizza in a wood-burning oven. I started crowdfunding, borrowed money from a friend, found a space at Third Cluster on Eighth Sovetskaya Street, and fixed it up. Däner Pizza Spot opened in December 2019: we are only four months old.
This is the first Neapolitan vegan pizzeria in Russia. What does that mean? We make cold-proofed dough from Italian fine flour, sea salt, water and yeast. It produces a thin but puffy crust, which we bake in a birch wood-fired oven. Our menu includes seven types of pizza, soft drinks, and several kinds of beer and cider. The entire pizzeria occupies about one hundred square meters, and the dining area takes up around forty square meters. There is enough space, but now that the dining area is closed, we have slightly modified the kitchen to make it easier to pick up orders. The number of pizza boxes we go through has increased: before, we used five hundred boxes a month, but now we’re up to around two thousand.
When the general shelter-in-place order was issued in Petersburg, our landlord quite categorically said there would be no breaks on the rent. Later, he made concessions after all, discounting the rent by thirty percent, but we had to pay two months in advance. With suppliers, everything has changed, too: before, we could order products in the morning and get them in the evening. Now delivery can take three days, so it’s easier for me to go to the store myself.
We haven’t had to fire anyone: there are nine of us on staff, plus four delivery people. When the bad news came, I told the guys, “Guys, I don’t want to fire anyone, but you have less work to do. So tell me how much I can reduce your salary to make it okay.” The guys get it all and have not been down in the dumps: they listen to music in the kitchen and hang out.
I’m not very good at math, and I don’t like counting things, but I know this is the beginning of something bad, and it’s only going to get worse. We have had a certain minimum per day we had to earn. Now, while there were two such bad days in March, there have been five or six in April. Overall, we have started earning at least thirty to forty percent less than we used to do.
I tried to reduce the price of delivery, but quickly realized there are parts of the city that are too remote to deliver pizza at a discount—it’s more trouble than it’s worth. There were cases when several orders were made from the same district—I combined them and gave people a discount. Now we have teamed up with the vegan burger joint Hood Street Food—they are located one floor below us. Their burgers and our pizza can be combined in one order so people don’t overpay.
My sunniest plan is to be able to last at least until the summer. But if the epidemiological situation does not change and people are not allowed outside, our project may come to an end in July. At the same time, in my heart I’m not planning to close down, because I am an optimist. Well, and I need to pay off my debts somehow.
That’s why I haven’t been selling gift certificates yet. We opened with crowdfunding money, among other things, and we raised a significant amount of money through gift certificates. So, all four months we’ve been in business, people have kept coming in with them. But I still want to start paying back my debt to my friend: it’s good he doesn’t rush me and has generally been accommodating.
I am counting on support from customers and friendly establishments because all attempts by the government to improve the lot of small businesses have been futile. Personally, I, like many of my friends, got absolutely no support from the government. So if you want to see us when it’s all over (and it will be over), order delivery from us, and we’ll do everything possible to continue to please you. Together we will win! Eat pizza, not animals!”
Thanks to George Losev for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Check out my other postings on how people in Russia have been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
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