By Alex Koons


Working in the restaurant industry presents daily challenges, but this past year, I encountered one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

When I opened Hot Tongue Pizza, an all-vegan concept, I was confident that I could create a standout pizza minus the meat and cheese on the pie. Yet, over time, it became apparent that I was struggling to draw non-vegan crowds to an all-vegan pizza place.

I’ve always been pretty candid about my dislike for most plant-based cheeses and don’t blame anyone for not rushing in to try my own housemade versions. On top of this realization, during this past summer in Los Angeles, the strikes among writers and actors had significant repercussions on everything. When you add the summer heat, inflation and a decline in people dining out, it created a perfect storm that resulted in some of our lowest sales, causing stress that would affect any business owner to the point of hospitalization.

Now, normally, business decisions happen behind the scenes with minimal fallout—maybe some added stress on staff or an annoying new process. However, in September of 2023, we decided to transition from an all-vegan establishment to incorporating animal products. This decision resulted in a pretty brutal backlash I hadn’t anticipated. People vehemently criticized the shop, attacked my character, and questioned my ethics and morals. I received texts, emails, calls—individuals expressing how foolish they deemed the change and eagerly anticipating our closure.

Sticking to the status quo was simply not an option. We exhausted efforts to avoid such a drastic shift, but this change provided us with a chance to survive another day. Amidst a multitude of opinions, it’s important to not dwell on other views that lack knowledge of the whole picture. Embracing change, even if it means changing myself, was intimidating. It was hard and still is, but change, like death, is one of life’s certainties. This transition remains a work in progress. A crucial decision had to be made, and we did. After all, you can’t craft vegan pizza if you can’t meet payroll.

If anyone out there is contemplating a change to their menu, policy or restaurant, I hope they find the courage to pursue it. Fear of others’ opinions shouldn’t hold you back when you’re certain it’s the right decision for yourself. Tough decisions are made every day. Don’t be afraid to make yours.   

Alex Koons is the owner of Hot Tongue Pizza and co-owner of Purgatory Pizza, both located in Los Angeles.