December 17, 2014 by
Nina Casalena, The VRG Blog Editor
By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
Since 1974 Georgia-based Mellow Mushroom serves pizza, hoagies, calzones, salads, and other popular dishes at over 170 locations in 19 states. The restaurant chain points out on its website that it “…offers a wide selection of salads, hoagies and pizzas that can be customized to a vegan diet.” Participating locations are listed.
On the Mellow website, it also states:
“We offer a large variety of vegetarian options, many of which can be easily made vegan. You’ll find tofu and tempeh which can be seasoned seven different ways and fresh veggies galore throughout our menu. We also offer Daiya vegan cheese, which is free of animal and soy products, and a good source of calcium. Our veggie customers always leave full, happy and satisfied!”
Mellow Mushroom told us in December 2014 that they are developing a vegan menu titled Mellow Mushroom Vegan Favorites that specifies how its menu items can be modified vegan. It will be available in stores and online in the near future.
The VRG received a working proof of the menu which states at the outset:
“Please let your server know you are vegan so we can take extra care. We recognize and respect the choice of a vegan lifestyle and want to provide you with a large selection of high quality and nutritious dishes. Daiya vegan cheese can be substituted on any of our regular menu items.”
Over the course of several months the Vice President of Brand Development at Mellow Mushroom relayed to us more details about its menu items and plans for new vegan dishes. The following is a synopsis of what we’ve learned.
In response to our question about whether the Mega-Veggie and Gluten-Free Veg Out Pizzas could be ordered without the cheese and whether the pizza crust and red sauce are made without all animal- or dairy-derived ingredients including honey, milk, egg, lard, animal flavors and L-cysteine we learned that:
“Any pie can be ordered without cheese, and our dough (regular and gluten-free) and red sauce are all vegan. We also offer Daiya vegan cheese…I would like to point out that none of our cheeses is made with animal rennet.”
Readers may be interested to learn more about the gluten-free crust ingredients and gluten-free kitchen precautions on a special page where it states “Try our new gluten-free crust – now vegan and made with ancient grains”: http://mellowmushroom.com/sites/default/files/2013_GF_Menu_REVISED-01.pdf
The new vegan menu specifies that “our pizza and calzone dough is vegan. Ask for no butter or Parmesan on your crust and substitute Daiya cheese for mozzarella.”
Readers may note that the pretzels are made of the same dough as the pizzas and calzones. Diners should request no butter or Parmesan.
The Vice President of Brand Development told us that “it is standard protocol to use butter and Parmesan cheese [on our dough] unless a guest orders vegan cheese, no cheese or requests it that way.” She added that:
“Our team is trained to not do the butter and Parmesan if a guest orders vegan cheese, but we include that on the menu as many just like to make sure desires are specified…it seems to give them a higher comfort level and we feel that it’s generally a good idea to be specific so a human error doesn’t happen out of force of habit.”
The Vegetarian Resource Group asked if slicers used to cut pizza with meat toppings and/or dairy cheese are used to cut vegan pizzas. We were informed that:
“No, we do not use the deli slicer for any vegan products (protein substitute or vegetable). A separate pizza slicer is held on the line to cut all designated vegan pizzas…It is not necessary [to request sanitized slicers] as we train the proper procedures; however, I would never tell a guest they should not feel comfortable asking about separate utensils.”
Mellow Mushroom offers Avocado, Tempeh, and Tofu Hoagies. Wanting to know if the bread used for Mellow’s hoagies is free of all animal ingredients including honey, milk, egg, lard, animal flavors, L-cysteine, and animal-derived enzymes, we received the following reply:
“All our bread products including our regular and gluten-free dough are vegan with the exception of our pita which is made with milk powder…We don’t have L-cysteine in any…[bread] products except the pita…There is no honey in any of our breads.”
Readers may note that the Tempeh Hoagie is served with pesto mayo which “…is made with mayonnaise…so our pesto is not vegan.” The Tofu Hoagie and the Avocado Hoagie are served with egg-based mayonnaise. Patrons may request when ordering that these condiments be left off. Mellow told us:
“They can be ordered without [cheese and mayonnaise]. We don’t have vegan mayo, but we have vegan cheese (Daiya). It is not…a soy cheese.”
In response to our questions about kitchen procedures we learned that the tempeh and tofu are stored in separate containers and away from meat products. They also are prepared away from meat products. The VRG was informed by a corporate officer that at Mellow Mushroom:
“We train ServSafe storage practices….We train to use a designated part of the grill for any vegan items (which is also required to be sanitized prior to cooking) and use color-coded spatulas that are designated vegetarian/vegan.”
The calzones at Mellow Mushroom consist of dough and red sauce that “…are the same products used for our pretzels and pies, and they are all vegan. And yes, a calzone can be made with vegan cheese and vegetables.”
Mellow Mushroom also offers hummus on its menu. In response to our question about whether the hummus is made without all animal ingredients including honey, milk, egg, lard, gelatin and animal flavors The VRG was informed that “The hummus is vegan.”
The hummus is served with garlic toast points or pita wedges which contain milk. Mellow’s corporate officer suggested that vegans substitute vegetables for the bread because even though “the toast points are a vegan bread…they are brushed with butter.”
We asked Mellow Mushroom if they use sugar in their non-dessert items and received this reply: “We do not use sugar in the non-dessert items.”
According to the new vegan menu herb vinaigrette and balsamic vinaigrette salad dressings are vegan. Salads may be ordered without cheese.
There is a Build Your Own page on the Mellow website which lists the major components of all dishes served at the restaurant:
When The VRG asked about any plans for new vegan menu options, a corporate vice president at Mellow Mushroom told us that:
“We are currently doing R&D on multiple items. We are not sure how many will ultimately make the cut, but they will hopefully appear in the second quarter of next year…They will be part of our core menu. We are working to create a separate menu that includes all our vegetarian and vegan items on our current menu as well as tips to make current items vegetarian and/or vegan.”
For more information on ingredients in specific menu items, readers may visit the Mellow site where an allergen and special diets menu tool is located: http://www.nutritionix.com/mellow-mushroom/menu/special-diets/premium
According to Mellow’s Vice President of Brand Development “we consider honey, meats and dairy to be ‘animal products’ for the purposes of our online tool.”
The contents of this article and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgement about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.
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