Walking around near the Harvard Ave. T stop in Allston, the first thing I noticed was the abundance of places to eat.
Some of them are big franchises — like the McDonald’s that serves as my personal landmark every time I’m in the area. Many of them are frozen yogurt or Asian food places. There are a few taverns.
And then, nestled in a neat little row at the intersection of Brighton Avenue and Cambridge Street, there is a small mecca for vegans.
Peace o’ Pie is located between like-minded eateries Grasshopper and FoMu, and the three restaurants offer vegan treats no matter what you feel like eating — ice cream, Asian food or (in this case) pizza.
Visitors may notice a sort of useful energy about Peace o’ Pie. General manager Scott Rawdon graduated this past spring from Boston University, and front-of-house employee Pat Navin, who helps to run the restaurant’s Facebook page, is a recent Suffolk graduate. The store’s several co-owners (one of whom is Eric Prescott, the founder of the Boston Vegan Association) are often on hand, but they also hand a lot of the responsibility of running and marketing the restaurant down to their staff.
Navin and Rawdon said Facebook is at the center of Peace o’ Pie’s marketing strategy, and Rawdon has contributed much to the store’s social media presence since he started at the restaurant in April. One reason it works so well, Rawdon said, is the particular demographic the restaurant serves in Allston. An increasing number of college students are going vegan, but vegan food tends to be on the expensive side, which presents a problem for a student with a wary eye on his or her expenses.
Fortunately, most of those students have the other eye on their Facebook pages.
“We really need to make sure we’re reaching everyone … social media is really exciting right now for all age groups,” Rawdon said.
Rawdon also pointed out that paying to promote a Facebook post is much cheaper than more traditional forms of advertising, which is especially helpful to a restaurant that must purchase the necessary ingredients to create tasty pizza for a vegan diet. Peace o’ Pie requires a constant stream of specialty ingredients such as vegan cheeses and tempeh “meat” products as well as run-of-the-mill ingredients like produce, herbs and spices.
Navin said one of the things he likes about Peace o’ Pie is the community atmosphere cultivated by the management. The owners recently revamped the menu based on customer input. When Navin does his daily Facebook and Twitter updates, he uses those platforms as another way to foster a culture of outreach and camaraderie.
“We use [social media] to offer promotions and to announce our slices of the day and our sandwich of the week, but it’s also really important to make sure you’re communicating,” he said.
Navin acknowledged the restaurant still has room to grow. At the moment, the Twitter feed contains all of the same posts as their Facebook page, something that Navin hopes to work on in the future. Peace o’ Pie also recently joined Instagram. Navin said reaching people through photography is easy and fun, because food is something that is most effectively marketed in a visual way.
In addition to their use of various social media outlets, Peace o’ Pie’s website offers a look at a different side of the business. Styled like a blog, it lets each visitor know right off the bat about the specific steps the staff takes to carry out Peace o’ Pie’s earth-friendly mission. Besides the restaurant’s use of all vegan ingredients, the homepage also highlights Peace o’ Pie’s biodegradable packaging and in-restaurant composting practices.
Alex White, a Northeastern University pharmacy student who was a vegetarian for several years and still rarely eats meat, found Peace o’ Pie on Facebook. He said he was glad for the restaurant’s page because he otherwise might not have found out about them.
“I never really make it over to Allston, but I thought for something different it would be worth the trip, and it’s really good,’ he said.
It’s so good that Peace o’ Pie cook Jonathan Quinones said he actually enjoys the nightly dinner rush, when he and the rest of the back-of-house staff are rushing around to put out pizzas. But his favorite part of the day is the morning, when he decides the specials that will be penned on a board in the restaurant’s small dining area.
Though Quinones is proud of his vegan creations and delights in sharing them with customers, he said he doesn’t have much of a feel for today’s culture of rapid sharing on the web.
“I’m not big on the Facebook,” he said. “I like to make something and then call, ‘Hey! Come take a picture!’”
Quinones once worked at a sandwich shop that predominantly sold roast beef, but left for Peace o’ Pie when he decided there was such a thing as too much red meat. Navin also said he doesn’t cook with meat in his own home. In either case, when they are at work, there is a strict no-tolerance policy toward eating animal products. There’s even a polite sign on the door to urge customers to respect the vegan space by leaving any edible animal products outside
“I think that even when we receive negative feedback, it’s often on something we’ve even been picky about ourselves,” Rawdon said, referring to the members of the staff that have adopted an alternative diet. “I think vegans are very specific about what they want to eat, and so we get feedback that is extreme.”
Rawdon said he views these interactions with customers, especially on the Internet, as an opportunity for growth.
“If someone is looking at our wall and sees how we handled that conflict positively, just that can be a good for us,” he said.
Peace o’ Pie is located at 487 Cambridge St. in Allston, close to the Harvard Ave. T stop on the B line or accessible via the 66 bus. While a slice can be pricy, the restaurant often offers deals to its Facebook fans, and all-you-can-eat vegan cheese pizza is available for $10 at certain times of day. Even without any discount, though, the pie is well worth it. The creative combinations of toppings and (in my opinion) completely perfect dough make it worth the splurge. Peace o’ Pie proves, beyond any reasonable doubt, that there’s no need to sacrifice flavor while sacrificing meat.
After visiting Peace o’ Pie, I became curious as to whether Northeastern students felt they had sufficient healthy eating options nearby. Particularly, I was curious if they felt they had healthy meal options available to them while staying up late studying for finals. If you’re curious, here’s what they said: