176 – Jason and Twee Start a Vegan Restaurant

Welcome back to the David Madow Lifestyle show! It’s Dr. D the “V”! It’s the show where we help you live stronger, thinner, healthier and happier. I’ve got a great show for you today, coming live from Breckenridge, Colorado.

Normally, I banter for a little bit at the beginning of the show. But right now, I’m going to get right into this because it’s going to be a show that is packed with some really cool stuff.

Yoko and I come here a lot and we spend a good part of the winter here. And we are always looking for good vegan food. So we found it. We heard about this plant based restaurant that opened up a short time ago in Breckenridge, Colorado. It’s 100 percent plant based, and I believe it’s the first one. We went in there (it’s similar to a pizza shop) and we had a great meal.

The owners came over and talked to us. And they didn’t just come over for a couple minutes to ask “how was your meal?” They came over for a while and we bonded with them. We started to hear their whole story about why they wanted to open a plant based restaurant in Breckenridge, Colorado. And now a week later we ended up in their home here in Blue River, Colorado doing a podcast finding out the entire story about Jason Goldstein and Twee Merrigan Goldstein.

I feel honored to be in your house, guys thanks so much for the invitation. Its beautiful! You guys told me you came from Westchester, New York and you drove around in like a hippie RV for I don’t know how long. I want to hear your story starting from New York to why you figured out that you wanted to start a plant based restaurant. I just want to hear your story. You will be talking to people from all over the world. I just want to hear about how you started this thing and go back to New York and why you’re here.

Jason: “Well, we decided to leave New York because we wanted to have a different life for ourselves and our family. So we thought we would move to Boulder, Colorado. After attending the National Gourmet Institute in New York, I said let’s go check out Boulder. And I was like, it seems like a beautiful place, but it’s a lot like where we were currently living in. We wanted a change from that. So I looked at my wife and she looked at me, and we said we don’t know where we’re going to live if it’s not Boulder. So we bought an RV and put our house on the market and started driving around the country until we figured out where we wanted to move. So as soon as we got to Cleveland, we thought, let’s move here. With all due respect, Westchester is a beautiful place and we loved it. But we wanted something different. Cleveland was a change. And that’s what we were looking for after being in my old career of hardwood lumber and hardwood plywood. distribution for 27 years.”

Dr. Dave: “So tell me how a Jason Goldstein who comes from Westchester, New York came to Breckenridge, Colorado? You had this vision of opening a plant based restaurant. How do you even start with that? What is the first step? What did you do?”

Jason: “I just did a Google search for restaurants that were for sale in Breckenridge and this one was available. It’s a very small restaurant, as you know, just over 800 square feet. I thought that it was in our price range and was something that was manageable and doable for us to start out in this type of industry.”

Dr. Dave: “Ok now, so Thui and Jason, you are both vegan. And I think you said you’ve both been vegan for about 3 years or so. So I’m guessing there’s no way that you would ever open up a restaurant that served animal products? So if you want to own a restaurant, you are absolutely serving plant based food. Were you worried at all that coming into Breckenridge and being the first that this thing wouldn’t really take off? That people wouldn’t accept it? Let’s face it, people love meat. I see them eating meat all the time. Were you worried that people wouldn’t come to your place if it were plant based?”

Jason: “Yes, we were very worried. In fact, on the second day after many people came in and we told them we weren’t selling because we just hadn’t taken the sign down yet. Groups of 6 and 8 were getting up and walking out. I looked at my wife and she looked at me, and I said I think we made a big mistake.”

Dr. Dave: “So now run us through this. You’ve got this vegan pizza business that’s open for business and you’ve got groups of 6 and 8 people that are coming in hungry and have probably just finished a day of skiing. They are ready to order. So what took place? At what point they figure out that they’re not going to get regular cheese from a cow or sausage? How did they figure it out? They just got up and walked out? What happened? You didn’t try to convince them to stay?”

Jason: “I am going to pass this over to my wife right now because she’s more front of the house and she was on the front lines of the situation.”

Twee: “I remember we put the sign out front that said vegan pizzeria. And I was thinking, yeah, so many people will just walk in the door. But sometimes they didn’t even get inside. They just spun on their heels. There were moments when they came and we would just say but it’s organic and sustainable and it’s non GMO. Here, can we give you a sample? We’d start getting the sample ready, and sometimes they would stay. But once they ate it, they were done. Once they ate it, they just looked at us like whoa! Here’s what it came down to. It was over the Christmas holiday and you’ve got people that come to Breck who come once a year. So they came back to the same pizzeria they were used to last year. But now that we are slammed on 3 of the 4 nights we are open it’s a totally different story and it’s only 3 weekends later. It’s just because it might have been a little bit too confrontational. You know? They just came in to get their pizza, they didn’t want to know what was in it. They just wanted to know it tasted good and they could feed their family because they either just drove into town or like you said, they just got off the mountain. So bottom line is here they are now like, “oh wait, what! It’s a vegan place? And there’s a lot more to that than you’re choosing to eat paleo or you’re choosing to eat low carbs or you’re choosing to eat gluten free. We’re talking about compassion for animals. And it was like whoa, you’re digging into a deeper belief system than mine right now. And there were people that got angry at us. I had this one group, a 4 top of adults and about 6 children. They were raving about the pizza. And again, this is when we were just opening up and figuring out how we were going to run it eventually. We wrote something on there about vegan meat or that it was plant based. Anyway, I had a family that just raved about it. And then all of a sudden, the one woman says what is that cheese? Is that like ricotta? And I looked at her and I said actually no it’s organic cashew based mozzarella. And oh my God, the look she gave me. She felt like she was tricked. At the end of the dinner, she looked at me and goes, I just want you to know that I really felt like I was tricked and we were duped. And I looked at her and said that’s the last thing we wanted to do. So here we are Jason and I busting our butts and somehow deciding to land in Breckenridge, Colorado. We were pulled here. If we were going to move to the west and moved to Colorado, we were going to make sure that opening a vegan restaurant in the middle of America. In the coastal cities, it’s very easy to go vegan. But there’s something about middle America, that it’s not that available yet. So we said we were going to move to a city or town or mountain resort that was going to have a lot of traffic. What is it? 7000 people that live here and 1.5 million that come through. So we figured even if we’re not going to do well, if we could get a couple percentages out of that, we’ll do all right. So anyway here we are. I just couldn’t believe that I had this woman who raved about it and couldn’t stop talking about it. And the other 4 adults that loved it. But once we told them, it was cashew mozzarella, I just saw people react differently. And the ones who were confronted, they were a little defensive. The ones who were open and tasted it walked away with a seed planted in their head like wow I just ate plant based food, and it tasted good. And maybe I might try again another time. And that’s what keeps the doors open for my husband and I. We don’t need to be making pizza, we don’t need to be converting anyone. We don’t want to. We could be making money and doing other things with our kids. It’s our first season in Breckenridge. Our plan was to just go riding every day. But this restaurant became available because it was meant to be. And here we are all of a sudden, the server, the staff. It just organically happened where we’re at now. It started to build. We are not building it. It’s being built with us as a part of it. But there is a family, there’s magic. Things are happening. Now we closed after that week. And for those 3 weeks, we just hung out and regrouped and said, do we really want to do this? Is this what we’re supposed to do? We wrote each other love notes like we are meant to dig our roots deep and build a mini community within this amazing community. And that’s what we’re doing. 3 weeks in and we don’t have enough staff. We have people knocking on our doors trying to get our hours extended. We’ve met people like you. A conscious community that has a gathering. And that’s what keeps us working 12 hours a day until we find the right balance. We are being called to do this. We’re being called.”

Dr. Dave: “I’ll share something that you told us when Yoko and I came into your house this evening to record this podcast. You were looking around at some houses and then you found one that was just perfect for you. And then you found this restaurant. Do you think you were asking the universe in some way for this whole thing to work out perfectly as you’re driving around in your RV for 14 months?”

Twee: Absolutely! I don’t think, I feel that is how we operate now or it’s how we’re being called to operate. Even today, we were riding on Valentine’s Day and Jason and I, of course you can’t help yourself but to talk about business especially this early in the game. And I said, what do we need. What’s the next step? He goes, I need a couple more Gregorios. Gregorio is one of our hardest workers in the kitchen. I mean this guy works 3 jobs and you know he’s sending money back home to Mexico. He said I need about 2 more of these. And so we stopped, rode the rest of the lift, and prayed to the universe. I said please, God we are dropping down on our knees of what you want us to do. We need your help. And within a half an hour, my husband just looked at his emails and said we just got 3 emails for kitchen staff and I said wow! I just prayed.I believe that if you put your mind towards a vibration that is on another level of consciousness. I’m not saying we are better than or less than. It’s like tuning in to a podcast. If you’re on the same vibration, its happening.”

Dr. Dave: “I totally agree with you there. I have told my listeners stories about when I went through a really difficult divorce, I asked the universe for a soul mate. It didn’t happen overnight. But it did happen. I teach my listeners about this. So let’s get back to the restaurant for a second. The other night, Yoko and I came in there, and we really didn’t know what to expect. We were greeted by a really nice woman her name was Victoria, I believe. She pretty much said sit wherever you want and get comfortable. We chose a great seat we were sitting next to each other with wonderful cushions next to our backs. It was great. But we still didn’t know what to expect. Then, as we were ordering, Thui I think you came over to our table and pretty much made us feel like we were old time friends. But it wasn’t just me and Yoko I noticed that you went over to every customer in the restaurant at some point and sat down with them and had a really nice conversation. And Jason, you were in the back, I think, doing a lot of the cooking but mainly the kitchen area. But Jason came over to our table, ultimately, and we all sat down and talked for a while. I am a business person as well, you know that and I think the way you’re doing, it is really really smart. You want to know your customer. You want to bond with them you want to connect with them. I imagine once you do that they’re kind of hooked and they want to come back. It’s like a family there. Tell me a little bit about how that’s working out for you. Because let’s face it, the average restaurant you walk into the owner is not going to come, sit at your table, and ask you a bunch of questions and be friendly. they might ask you how your food is, and that’s pretty much it. How’s that working out?”

Twee: ” I just did a little head count. You know, let’s make it’s relevant to the restaurant. It’s an intimate, cozy space. I think we have like 7 tables and then 5 seats at the bar and 5 seats at the island. So it’s cozy. And we love it cozy. For me, it’s about connecting with each other. I don’t know if you know, but I teach yoga professionally as well. And I teach a yoga class. You can be in and out, and it can be a real fitness experience. But what we try to offer people is some type of experience where you connect with yourself and connect with other people. It’s like we are having a dinner party. And I loved throwing dinner parties when we were back in New York. But now our restaurant is an extended dinner party from our home. So when we said to you, come over here. We met you in the restaurant, but here you are in our home because it’s an extension. The restaurant is and an extension of our home. So when you walk into our kitchen, our restaurant, or our dining room, it’s like we’re having a dinner party. And when we have dinner parties, we want to talk to everyone. Even if you bought a friend, you know? We want to know who you are and how we can serve you. Especially at the beginning. We’re not always going to be there, but we want to make sure that someone else there is also doing the same thing.”

Dr. Dave: “Well, it definitely worked. And as I said before, I felt really comfortable meeting you and talking to you. It was great. Jason, I want to talk to you a little bit more about your. I can’t say I’m a pizza expert. Being vegan, we don’t eat a lot of pizzas. And I am not just saying this because I am here in your house doing this podcast. The pizza, Jason, was unbelievable. We ordered a little too much. I was expecting a little 12 inch pizza but it came out and we had kale Cesar salads too as an appetizer. It was awesome. We split it and it was incredible. We decided to get 2 pizzas, but there were about 8 or 9 different pizzas on the menu. So I said to Yoko, a 12 inch pizza isn’t too big, let’s get 2 of them. Yoko said, are you sure? and I said yes, please, I’m starved. When they came out, they appeared to be a lot bigger than 12 inches because they’re square. Not only that the dough was incredible. Jason, something you are doing here is magical. We had a lasagna pizza and I think the other one was the pesto. So the combination of lasagna, pizza and the pesto pizza , we were in heaven. I want to talk to you in a second about how you make these things. We couldn’t finish it all, we took it home and we had pizza to eat for the next few days. So Jason, tell us just a little bit about how you are making this delicious pizza that is all vegan? And it’s different than anything I’ve ever tasted in my life. I’ve had vegan pizza in New York, trust me. This is different . This is better. So give us a little explanation as to what’s going on here?”

Jason: “All I can say is that we’re trying to honor the pizza traditions from New York from Napoli from Chicago, basically from the great pizza places around the world. That means using a top grade flour. It’s double refined and you won’t usually get that at most pizza restaurants. And putting it in a wood fire oven at 750 to 800 degrees for 90 seconds. We’re still working it out. It’s not a completed product yet. It’s not there yet. It’s close, but we’re still trying to figure this out. We have hopefully a truffle pizza coming on the menu for this weekend. So after I finished chef school, this wonderful chef opened up an unbelievable woodfire pizza restaurant in New York which is called Fortina. It’s not vegan or even close to vegan. The chef/owner Christian Petroni has won Chopped twice and is now a judge on the TV show. So everything I know started there. I did my internship there after I finished chef school. I was so inspired by these guys in their early 30s. It comes in our nature to be comfortable around our customers but these guys run an 80 seater restaurant if not larger and they sit down with everybody when they’re in there. We love how they do that. We want to connect with out customers in the same way. A lot of our inspiration comes from them.”

Twee: “So when we had our 5year old, it was an amazing time. He [Jason] was working at the family business in the South Bronx. And he would see our newborn baby about 15 minutes a night. Like most people, who unfortunately have to work, they only get to see their babies for a few hours if that. He only got to see his baby for 15 minutes a night. So it just kept happening like that and we had a “fantastic lifestyle.” One day I just said, you know babe is this what you want to do? Is this your dream? And he said no one ever asked me that question before. Here he was working at the family business since he was 13 and 27 years later his wife comes along and asks him this question and says is this what you want to do? And he said no one asked me. So I said, I’m asking you. I’m your wife, who is also a yoga teacher and goes around asking that same question every day of every single person. So what is your dream? And what are you doing about it? And here my husband was never asked or thought about it. So he thought about it. Finally he looked at me kind of shyly and said, I want to own a bar or restaurant maybe. That’s how it all started. Once he said it, then the wheels started coming into motion.”

Dr. Dave: “Jason, we need to get you back for a second because I have a really important question to ask you. You made this decision to leave the family business after 27 years which was obviously very lucrative. Is there turning back? Would you ever go back to your old lifestyle?”

Jason: “Not to my old lifestyle but there can always be unfinished business with the family business. There’s a lot of my heart and soul over there too. But not the old lifestyle, no.”

Dr. Dave: “What was the old lifestyle that you would never go back to? Give me 6o seconds. Tell me about the old lifestyle. I want to know about it”

Jason: “It was just basically living the “American dream.” In my case, just being born and raised in New Jersey and New York. My whole life I thought that New York was the center of the universe. Why would I even think about leaving? And that’s kinda the mentality of a lot of my family and people I know in that part of the country. I don’t want to go back to that. I like living with nature and a freer lifestyle to me. That’s my own personal opinion but you can ask my wife the same question.”

Dr. Dave: “Thui, we’re going to end it with this. You told me one story at the restaurant when we were sitting down talking. Can you tell that story again? Just take a few seconds. It was a great story that pretty much made me feel that, wow this person is really cool.”

Twee: “We lived next to the town Greenwich, Connecticut which was a beautiful place where you feel like you’ve jumped into the middle of Architecture Digest magazine. You go on house tours of 47 million dollar mansions. It was nice to look at, you know? And then 2 towns down was Hillary Clinton’s Chappaqua. So here we are and we’ve “made it.” But then you look around and wonder is there a deep connection with each other’s souls, beyond all the stuff that you have and the education that you require. When you look at a 5 year old daughter of an acquaintance and say, hey I like your shoes. And she looks at me and says, oh thanks they’re Steve Madden. I wanted to just stick her fingernails into dirt and mess up her hair and say go hang out in the woods for God’s sake. You’re 5! Who taught you that labels are important enough to say to another human being. What?! I just went wow babe! Do we want to live in a community where we can find a few good people who we resonate with? I am not saying it’s wrong or right, better or less than, I’m just saying it wasn’t what we were looking for. I grew up on the Jersey shore. And he ran in Ringwood, New Jersey in the woods. We were connected to nature. He was connected to the woods and I was connected to the ocean. To each his own. You do what you need to do for your children. And we were very knowing and in our power that was not how we wanted our children to ever reply to a compliment about her shoes at 5 years old. You know what I’m saying? We want them to say thank you and then maybe give a compliment back. Remember the sun is on their face. They can hear the stream or the babbling brook and it’s time to take off your clothes and go naked in the pond. Let’s get back to it! So we left that place to go into a deeper richness.”

Dr. Dave: “We’re going to end it on that because you are preaching to the choir. I love the story. We’ve got beads here. We’ve got Jason with his grey ponytail. I love these guys. They’re like vegan hippies!” [Jason laughs]

Twee: “Crunchy luxury” 😉

Dr. Dave: “Crunchy luxury, I love it!”

Twee: “We can make change happen more consciously and more quickly.”

Dr. Dave: “At the restaurant I knew I loved you guys. I am so glad that I’m over here doing this. We’re going to end it like this. Tell us the name of your restaurant and any information you want listeners to hear because I’ve got a lot listeners that come through places like Breckenridge. The restaurant is called Piante Pizzeria. And where can we find Piante in Breckenridge?”

Twee: “It’s at 520 Main Street. At the corner of Park and Main Street on top floor. We hope to have a peace sign up there or a cool  little sign that you’ll be drawn to. Piante means plant in Italian. A good friend of Jason’s gave him the suggestion and we’re forever grateful because he nailed it.”

Dr. Dave: “So if you’re listening to me now wherever you are, when you comes through Breckenridge, Colorado, your homework is to come to Piante on the corner of Park and Main. It’s like the 3rd floor. You do have to take some steps up. Trust me, it’s a great place! And I want you to meet Thui and Jason personally. Tell them you heard about it on The David Madow Show. And Thui and Jason, thanks so much for your time. And thanks for inviting me and Yoko in your home tonight with your dogs and your wonderful kitchen and food. We really appreciate you. We really appreciate it. You guys are welcome back on the show anytime.”

Thanks so much for being here!

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