Crust The Process w/ Mark Mebus of 20th Street Pizza in Philadelphia

Mark Mebus is the mastermind behind Philadelphia's renowned 20th Street Pizza and Blackbird Pizza. Mark shares his inspiring journey, from his early days experimenting with dough recipes to navigating the challenges of running successful vegan restaurants. He offers insights into the art of crafting the perfect sourdough crust, the ups and downs of expanding a business, and the lessons he's learned along the way. Mark also discusses his involvement in the wholesale seitan and frozen pizza business, shedding light on the competitive plant-based food industry. With passion and humility, Mark reflects on his definition of success and the importance of staying true to oneself in the ever-evolving world of pizza making.

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In This Episode

  • Mark’s pizza journey: Mark’s love for pizza led him to open the popular vegan pizzeria Blackbird in Philadelphia. He later closed Blackbird due to building issues and the pandemic, and opened 20th Street Pizza to focus on high-quality sourdough pizza.

  • Challenges of running vegan restaurants: Mark discusses the difficulties vegan restaurants face, including the loaded expectations associated with the term “vegan”, increased competition as vegan options become more widespread, and the challenge of getting people to go out of their way to visit an all-vegan pizzeria.

  • Seitan and frozen pizza business: In addition to restaurants, Mark co-founded a wholesale seitan company that supplies to restaurants and also sells retail products like frozen vegan pizzas. He explains the thin margins and operational challenges of the frozen pizza business.

  • Flour and dough insights: Mark nerds out on dough, explaining how he uses a blend of specialty flours, including locally milled grain, to optimize flavor and texture in his pizza crust. He believes the crust is 90% of what makes a great pizza.

  • Reflections on success and expansion: Looking back, Mark says he would advise his younger self not to expand too quickly just because Blackbird got busy and people recommended it. He’s happiest focusing on one pizzeria and defines success as doing what he loves every day rather than chasing money or empire building.

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