By Charlie Pogacar

Vinny’s Pizza sells New York-style pies in downtown Houston, but recently the restaurant has been offering more than just pizza to the local community. In an effort to give back to the Houston area, Vinny’s started collaborating and making special pizzas with local organizations and nonprofits, with portions of the proceeds from each sale being donated to a good cause.

This October, Vinny’s Pizza is menuing its latest collaboration, this time with B.E.A.R., a Houston-based organization that serves as a support network for children who have been abused or neglected. Vinny’s Pizza executive chef Paul Lewis and members of B.E.A.R. teamed up to design two unique pies that will be on the menu all month long.

The first collaborative pie is the BEAR Necessities: tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, applewood smoked bacon, angus beef, sharp cheddar cheese, roasted sweet tomatoes, red chili flakes and hot honey drizzled on top. The second pie, the BEAR-y Scary—a nod to the Halloween season—features tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, applewood smoked bacon, green olives, fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers and oregano. Both pies retail for $25, and diners can pick up a slice of either for $5 a piece.

Related: Berwick Pizza: Dessert Pies In a Land of Whimsy and Ingenuity

A pizza that was the product of a collaboration between BEAR and Vinny's Pizza in Houston.

The BEAR Necessities and BEAR-y Scary pies. (Photo Credit: Mikah Danae).

Lewis said that these ongoing collaborations have been a great way to give back to the EaDo—east of downtown—neighborhood and the surrounding area. He especially loves the process of bringing in members of organizations like B.E.A.R. and helping them craft a pie that matches their vision.

“We have had such a fun time with them,” Lewis said. “We’ve come up with some really wacky collaborations, and it’s kind of my job to listen to their ideas and bring it together into a pizza that will be fun and tasty. It’s also always great to be involved in the community and get to know the different types of people within it. And we also just love that each collaboration supports a great cause that is important to us and the community.”

Vinny’s Pizza was opened in 2018 by Agricole Hospitality, owner of several acclaimed Houston-area eateries, after months of dogged research. The ownership team had the enviable task of beginning the research and development phase by flying to New York and sampling hundreds of different pizzas. After that, Lewis helped undertake a months-long process of perfecting a New York-style dough that would stand out from the Houston-area competition. The goal was to create a curated menu of New York-style pies with Houston flair. What does that mean?

“The ingredients we use on pies have more of that Houston vibe going on, with a lot of Hispanic influence and some Asian flavors,” Lewis said. “Houston is a cosmopolitan city with influence from all over the world, and that’s really reflected on our menu.” A signature menu item at Vinny’s Pizza that matches that Houston-area vibe is the Señor Steve, featuring Chorizo sausage, yellow cheddar, tomato sauce, pickled jalapeño and tomatillo salsa.

As a way to ensure the menu further reflected Houston culture, in spring 2021, Vinny’s Pizza first collaborated with the Houston Dash, the National Women’s Soccer League team that plays its home games a few blocks away from the pizzeria. Lewis worked with Dash stars Allysha Chapman, Lindsey Harris, Michaela Abam and Nichelle Prince to create a special pizza, a portion of the proceeds of which went to the Dash’s charity of choice, Dynamo Charities. The special pizza that ended up on the menu was the Dash Board Banger, a whole tomato sauce- and mozzarella-based pie that featured player-selected toppings like mesquite grilled chicken, fresh green apple slices, Texas chèvre goat cheese, sliced red onion and a hot-honey drizzle. The pizza retailed for $28 and was sold by the whole pie or the slice.

The Dash Board Banger, a whole, tomato sauce- and mozzarella-based pie that featured player-selected toppings like mesquite grilled chicken, fresh green apple slices, Texas chevre goat cheese, sliced red onion and a hot-honey drizzle.

(Photo Credit: Mikah Danae).

The Dash collaboration was successful enough that it launched the series of collaborations with other area organizations, including with the Houston Zoo, the Houston Children’s Museum, and the Houston Ballet. Lewis said the Ballet was a particularly memorable collaboration—the special pizzas were inspired by the rivalry between the Nutcracker and the Rat King in Nutcracker lore. On this occasion, a portion of the proceeds from each sale went to the Lauren Anderson Young Dancer Scholarship Fund, which supports young artists that reflect the rich diversity that shapes Houston as a community.

The two pizzas were dreamed up by cast members of the ballet. Team Nutcracker’s pizza was dubbed Lucid Dreamz and featured sweet onion sauce, mozzarella cheese, tea-smoked pork loin, fatback bacon, Texas pecans, baby spinach and a coffee BBQ glaze. Team Rat Queen’s pizza, named Seven Gold Crowns, was a cheesy vegetarian delight featuring sweet potato puree, gold cheddar, provolone cheese, mesquite-smoked broccoli, red onion, spiced pecans and walnut-pesto drizzle.

“Working with Vinny’s was such a fun opportunity. Every ingredient was so well thought out and seasonal, perfect for the nutcracker season,” said Natalie Varnum, Houston Ballet demi soloist. “My mind was blown away. I didn’t realize you could put such imaginative ingredients on a pizza. A sweet potato sauce? Walnuts and broccoli? It tastes like heaven. To be able to partner with a local restaurant to support the Lauren Anderson Young Dancer Scholarship is so important. Everyone deserves the opportunity to dance, and we are really grateful to [Agricole Hospitality co-owner] Vincent [Huynh] and his team for this collaboration.”

Vinny's Pizza co-owner Vincent Huynh alongside members of the Houston Ballet.

Vinny’s Pizza co-owner Vincent Huynh alongside members of the Houston Ballet. (Photo Credit: Mikah Danae).

Lewis predicts Vinny’s Pizza will continue to come up with fun collaborations. He sees it as a win-win for everyone involved: Money is raised for a good cause, and Vinny’s Pizza gets to spread awareness about its mouth-watering and innovative pies.

“It’s been such a fun, fulfilling way to support charities,” Lewis said. “It’s also been a way for us to broaden our brand into areas of town where people may not have considered us. Everyone has their favorite pizza place, their go-to spot. For us, it’s fun to say, ‘Hey, we’re here, we’re available, we deliver—give us a shot.’ But more than anything, it’s just really a fun thing to do, to work with people, to steer their ideas into a pizza that then gets to go on the menu.”