She may be only 21 years old, but Liza Hatem is already a seasoned pizza chef and experienced entrepreneur. As co-owner and co-founder of Vegan Rapide, she’s also a pioneer in the burgeoning vegan fast food sector.
How did you get started in the restaurant business?
About 4 years ago, around the time that I was finishing high school, I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. This was devastating for me because I had always been health conscious, always ate vegetarian. It made me realize that life can be very unpredictable, but also that anything is possible. So, when my mom came to me with the idea of starting a restaurant I said sure, why not? Me, my mom, and stepdad are all vegans so we decided to focus on vegan fast food. We brainstormed and my mom came up with the name, which is great because it tells people exactly what we do.
Do you have a special approach to making pizza?
For a pizza to be vegan, you have to make sure, first of all, that the flour is unbleached. And then there’s the sauce. We have a very traditional, Italian Mediterranean sauce but we make it ourselves to be absolutely sure that it’s vegan. Our pizzas are not pre-prepared, they’re not frozen, and we use fresh ingredients that we buy every day so there’s no spoilage or waste.
How many different recipes do you have?
We have about six different pizzas on the menu. We try to offer protein on each pizza so we have 2 or 3 pizzas with seitan, which is a wheat-based protein. It’s homemade and it’s a very meticulous process that takes about 4 hours. We have another pizza that’s topped with grated marinated tofu to simulate the texture and flavour of cheese. All our pizzas are made without cheese but we offer customers the option to add a tapioca-based vegan cheese.
Our pizzas are really popular because we’re one of the only vegan places that offers hand-made pizza all year-round, and customers really seem to like them. We’re already thinking about expanding and opening another location downtown in the near future.
That’s great! Do you have any business tips you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?
My parents taught me that it’s better to take your time than to take an unnecessary risk. It’s better to put in the time and the effort than to just rush into things head-first. Right now, I’m busy with all sorts of projects. I keep moving forward but I remember that it’s important to keep a healthy pace.
Vegan Rapide is in NDG at 6206 Sherbrooke Ouest. Local Delivery is available at (514) 489-9259.
Writer: Robbie Dillon