Pepperoni pizza has long been a quintessential American comfort food, and the gospel of its cheesy-spicy flavor profile is sung far and wide. But for those who abstain from eating animal products, finding a vegan substitute is often a fool’s errand—especially in Long Beach.

In 2020, Paul Reese and his wife Andrada Groseanu sought to remedy that after they found themselves nearly tempted by a pepperoni pizza left on the dining room table by a roommate.

“‘Oh my gosh, that looks so good,’” Reese recalled thinking.

So, they hopped online, determined to find a place in Long Beach that could deliver a vegan alternative, but failed to find any options.

“That is crazy,” Reese remembers saying. “There’s like over half a million people in this city. And I can’t get a vegan pepperoni pizza, let alone just a good vegan pizza at all? I looked at her and was like, ‘Let’s do it ourselves.’”

This fall, Long Beach Vegan Pizza—a beloved pop-up since 2020—will officially move off the sidewalk and into a brick-and-mortar under a new moniker and concept: MangiaFoglie.

That’s pronounced maun-gea-foli-yay, and it translates to leaf eater, Reese said.

Paul Reese adds a balsamic drizzle to a proscuitto arugula pizza, a popular item on the Long Beach Vegan Pizza menu while working his pop-up on Saturday, Aug. 5. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

Reese and his business partner Daniel Vesely will open MangiaFoglie, at 2300 E. Fourth St., where Portfolio Coffeehouse operated for more than three decades.

“No pressure, right?” Reese laughed.

Doors will open at 7 a.m. with coffee and pastry offerings. At 11:30, lunch service will have a variety of items like panuozzo, an Italian street-food sandwich. Then, the eatery will close at 3 p.m. and reopen at 5 p.m. for a proper Italian dinner service: appetizers, salads, a la carte pasta—plus beer and wine.

That includes, of course, the wood-fired vegan Neapolitan-style pizza that Reese and his wife once delivered out of their home during the days of lockdown.

A rendering of what MangiaFoglie will look like when it opens within the old Portfolio Coffeehouse location on Retro Row. Courtesy photo.

“I’ll be honest with you, I have no cooking experience. I’ve never worked back of house before. I’ve only worked as a server, but I learned to cook from selling food,” he said, adding that he’s worked for Michelin-starred restaurants and their chefs.

Back in 2020, Reese and his wife, who both share a background in the restaurant industry, quickly assembled everything they needed to launch Long Beach Vegan Pizza. From October to May of that year, on their busiest nights, they would sell 40 to 50 pizzas, prepped in a small room in their home and fired in the backyard within four ovens Reese built himself.

Paul Reese stands outside Hi-Lo Liquor where his pop-up, Long Beach Vegan Pizza, frequents on Saturday, Aug. 5. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

But everything came to a screeching halt when Reese’s grandmother decided to sell the home they’d been living in.

By early 2022, Reese was managing a coffee shop in Hollywood, where he made pretty decent money, but Long Beach Vegan Pizza still tugged at him.

“I just always felt like it wasn’t done—’This isn’t how it’s supposed to end,’” Reese said. “So I quit the coffee shop and I bought basically all I needed to do pop-ups.”

Paul Reese slides a raw pizza into a Roccbox oven while working at his pop-up Long Beach Vegan Pizza on Saturday, Aug. 5. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

Soon after, Reese would get a job at the Hi-lo Liquor Market in Downtown, where he still works and sets up his pizza pop-up each week.

Vesely entered the picture just a few months later, after trying Reese’s pizza at Beachwood Brewing. In disbelief that Reese’s pies were vegan, he was quick to partner up with Reese to help him invest in his vision.

“I already know what space I want,” Reese told Vesely.

The pair hope to open new doors to the long-darkened Retro Row location in November, where Reese will offer the plant-based pies that got him here.

A rendering of MangiaFoglie, which will open on Retro Row this fall. Courtesy photo.

“You would be amazed at the guidelines set forward to be considered Neapolitan pizza,” Reese said. “So, we’re ‘Neapolitan-style’ pizza, because none of those guidelines say things can be plant-based.”

San Marzano tomatoes, Caputo yeast, double-zero flour imported from Italy—sans mozzarella di bufala, Reese’s pizza checks off every other Neapolitan requirement for pizza.

Reese makes his own vegan cheese and meats.

“Right now, we’re just doing mozzarella, because I’m a one-man show,” he said. “The base of it is silken tofu, refined coconut oil, white miso, salt, lemon juice, carrageenan—essentially dehydrated seaweed.”

Paul Reese, owner of Long Beach Vegan Pizza, slices up a fresh slab of homemade vegan mozzarella while working his pop-up at Hi-Lo Liquor on Saturday, Aug. 5. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

As for the pepperoni, that’s made out of seitan. Then, for added visual detail, a small amount tofu is used to mimic the fat deposits of real pepperoni.

And MangiaFoglie’s menu will offer more cuisine from the region of Campania—especially that of Naples, the Amalfi coast and the island of Capri.

The name MangiaFoglie—a tribute to leaf eaters—is apropos for multiple reasons.

The term “is actually what the people of Naples were called in the 17th century, because their diets were so heavily based off of plants and vegetables.”

MangiaFoglie will offer menu items that non-vegans will be familiar with—like the pork and fennel-stuffed tortellini or squid ink pasta.

“And we’re using activated charcoal to basically be our squid ink,” he said. “And we’re using vegan caviar and roe. So it’ll be very familiar to someone who is not plant-based, being able to sit down and see words, ingredients that they’re used to.”

While Reese’s plans to continue his mission of bringing quality plant-based food to Long Beach and beyond, he doesn’t want his customers to pigeonhole MangiaFoglie as plant-based mimicry of Italian cuisine.

“I’m not cooking from a vegan perspective, and I feel like one of my huge goals and one of the biggest undertakings for me is to break the negative stigma that people have against veganism,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that it’s good food—oh, and by the way, it’s also plant-based.”

Going forward, Vesely and Reese will keep the acronym LBVP, but Long Beach Vegetables and Plants will become the name of Reese and Vesely’s new restaurant group. Together, they aim to open several more plant-based restaurants in Long Beach, something Reese feels the city has long lacked.

But Reese dreams of much more than bringing quality plaint-based food to Long Beach. He wants to offer opportunities to the community and to inspire others.

In 2020, “when we started hiring people, I was like, ‘Man, I’m giving people jobs in the community.’ … And it felt good,” he said, becoming emotional.

“Just being able to have a good meal is far and few between for a lot of people, so if we can, from our success, level out the playing field and give more opportunities for those who don’t have it—that’s a win for me.”

The next Long Beach Vegan Pizza pop-up will be at the Hi-lo Liquor Market at 707 E. Ocean Blvd. on Wednesday, Aug. 16, from 5 to 9 p.m.