The owners of Die Pie and Pêche Café adapt to survive a pandemic
Last spring, Die Pie, Edmonton’s first vegan pizzeria, was already facing challenges. Its once-prime location on Jasper Avenue faced an onslaught of construction that severely limited access for customers. Co-owners Neil Royale, Thomas Goodall, and Karuna Goodall were also juggling two businesses after opening Pêche Café in the Quarters the previous fall. Then, came the pandemic.
“As soon as we couldn’t operate, we started losing money because no one stopped charging us. Rent was still due every month and all the utility companies and our insurance companies were charging us,” explains Royale, who is the head chef of Die Pie.
The trio consolidated all of their businesses—they also operate a ghost kitchen called Seitan’s Disciples—into the Pêche Café space under the Die Pie name. The 97th Street and 102 Avenue location is twice the size of the Jasper Avenue space, making it easier to follow physical distancing requirements for dining in. They launched a new menu that was a fusion of the three restaurants’ offerings.
At first, customers were eager to visit. “When we first reopened in June, we were quite busy. But as the weeks went on, it slowed down,” says Royale. “I think people are still pretty weary of eating in dining rooms.”
There weren’t any vegan pizza joints in Edmonton when Royale opened the original Die Pie in August 2017 with his sister, Karuna Goodall, and her husband, Thomas Goodall. Karuna now works alongside her older brother as the sous chef at Die Pie. Three years later, the restaurant remains an anomaly in Edmonton’s meat-heavy dining scene.
But for Royale, the concept was a no- brainer. A Red Seal chef who graduated from NAIT’s culinary arts program before working at several illustrious hotels in Vancouver, Royale was raised as a vegetarian.
“I always wanted to open a vegetarian restaurant. I had an allergy to dairy as well, so I started playing with vegan cheese and really liked cooking vegan food,” says Royale. Pizza was always one of his favourite foods, and he mastered Neapolitan-style pizza while working in Jean George’s Culinary concept restaurant, Market.
The new restaurant, nicknamed Die Pie 2.0, has folded in aspects from Pêche Café, such as desserts and lattes featuring their barista oat milk. “It’s a special recipe we have. It steams really perfectly for lattes,” boasts Royale. They also make all of their vegan cheeses in-house. Rosso Pizzeria in Edmonton serves Die Pie’s vegan mozzarella, and Die Pie sells four types of vegan cheese under their brand Kaju, meaning “cashew” in French and Hindi. The most popular menu items tend to be playful takes on fast food items and bar food–mac and cheese, wings, and a Big Mack pizza similar to the beloved burger at a certain popular fast food spot.
There’s one definite upside to having only one restaurant. Before, Royale didn’t get to work with his sister very often. “We hadn’t worked together for probably a year so it’s great to be back working together,” says Royale. “That was one thing that was really sad when we were in self-isolation – we missed making pizza together.”