by Jim Harris
Bob Moezi, 58, is a man on a mission. Since 1987, he’s owned and operated Fino’s Pizza at 6784 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy, and he aims to change people’s perception of pizzeria food. (“Fino” is not a person’s name. It means “fine” in Italian.) Bob’s always been my go-to guy for vegan and vegetarian take-out, so when I heard that he had yet again revamped his menu, I decided to stop in and find out more.
Mt. Airy resident Moezi (pronounced Mo-ZAY) came to the U.S. from Sicily in 1972 with his parents. They lived in Chestnut Hill, where Bob attended Spring Garden College on Mermaid Lane and studied mechanical engineering.
Around that time he took what was supposed to be a temporary job at a friend’s pizzeria in center city. He liked it so much, however, that engineering quickly disappeared from his career radar screen. Eventually he owned pizzerias in Skippack, East Falls, Germantown and two in Mt. Airy, running as many as three at the same time. He is coming up on 25 years at the Germantown Avenue location.
Bob says his mother set him on the path of healthy eating. “She never gave us fried food,” he once told me, “and she always used lime or lemon juice rather than salt to enhance flavors.”
I doubt if there is even one other vegetarian in the Delaware Valley who owns and operates a pizzeria, but Bob has been a vegetarian since before he opened Fino’s in 1987. “I eat a lot of raw and steamed foods,” he said. “I believe in freshness and quality. If you eat healthy, you won’t be sluggish, and you won’t be sick.”
Now you might think that Bob would keep his own dietary preferences to himself and not foist them on his customers; after all, it IS a pizzeria, not a salad bar! But a few years ago Bob began working his own healthier foods into his menu. “The food I eat I want to share with everyone,” he explained. “If it’s good for me, it’s good for my customers. Some people still want fried, fatty foods, but a lot of people do care about eating healthy, and they understand my position. People think it costs more to eat healthy, but it does not have to.”
Bob experimented for two years with vegan pizza ingredients before putting them on the menu, but he says the response was excellent, especially for his white pizza with steamed broccoli, steamed tomatoes, fresh parsley and basil. Bob insists all his ingredients are fresh, never frozen. He buys organic vegetables every day from local farmers’ markets, including those in Germantown and Chestnut Hill. “If you make money here, you should spend it here,” he said.
Bob has a new menu introduced just last week that goes much further than ever before in offering what most people would call “health foods.” As a result, I asked him the following questions last week, followed by his answers:
•Would you please tell me about the new menu?
“About 75% of my menu now is vegan and vegetarian. Everything new is food that I eat myself, my own recipes. I approached the new menu from a culinary point of view. It all has to taste good and look appealing, and I emphasize quality, not quantity.
“I no longer sell any fried food, only grilled and baked, nothing dipped in grease. If you want fried chicken or French fries, we don’t have it. I also use herbs and spices rather than salt and sugar. I’ve added fresh fruit, as in our mango and pineapple salad, and fresh vegetables, like corn on the cob, eggplant and steamed broccoli. We have six kinds of veggie burgers including black bean cheeseburgers and baked vegan crab cakes. There are now eight different vegan pizzas available, including gluten-free, with four different types of dough.
“We also have specialty sandwiches like vegan chicken parmigiana and vegan meatball parmigiana. I eat them every day. There’s no fat in them. We also have whole wheat rolls if you like. The rest of the vegetarian/vegan part of the menu includes wraps, salads, pasta and vegan beef.”
•Would you call your fare “fast food?”
“Well it’s fast because people can get it fast, but there’s a lot of preparation involved. I would call it convenient rather than fast. For me, there are two steps involved. First, the prep work, then second, I have to make sure I have just enough of everything, because it all has to be prepared fresh every day. That’s why I run out sometimes. I have to buy fresh herbs and spices.”
•Are these menu changes intended to gain a new clientele or convert your old customers?
“Well, I have converted a lot of them. I put them in a new position. They come to me and say, ‘The food was delicious. You changed my mind about what I eat.’ Once I give them the information and the choice, 10 out of 10 choose healthy. They try it, and they want to try it again. But I’ve also gained some new customers. I’ve even got some regulars from center city.
“It’s been a gradual transition. You can’t change everyone’s mind overnight. People have had to trust me, but it’s paid off. My customers have been very supportive. Most of them want to eat healthy. They used to think vegan food couldn’t possibly taste good, but once you start eating this way, your palate changes.”
•How did you learn to cook vegan style?
“I’ve been vegan for 27 years. In the beginning it was hard to find the kind of food I wanted to eat, so I experimented with my own recipes. Vegetarians have always been able to eat rice and beans, but I’ve taken it to a whole new level. I gotta be honest with you; in the beginning it was pretty horrible, but not any more.”
•Would you ever consider opening a second shop?
I don’t know. In order for me to teach someone else the ropes, they’d have to be vegan and work with me for at least six months. It’s not rocket science, but you’ve got to have some talent to do it. I think I’m happy just being in this location. I’m a hands-on kinda guy. I work here 13 hours a day, six days a week.”
•How do you keep up that pace?
“I practice what I preach. I eat healthy.”
Bob has three children: two boys aged 18 and 19 and a girl, 24. Fino’s is open for lunch and dinner every Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, his only day off, Bob often visits area yard sales, where he looks for books on furniture and other goodies. You can see Fino’s new menu online at http://www.finospizzeria.com, or call 215-844-1188.