Pizza days are one of our favorite days, and if you’re a lucky resident of Los Angeles, be prepared for a sensory experience like never before at the colorful, eclectic, and perfectly eccentric Hot Tongue Pizza! This vibrant, fast-casual, vegan pizzeria is the creative child of duo Alex and Jackie Koons, and the city’s top hospitality designer Alexis Readinger. Inspired by Koons’s love for old-school Italian NYC pizza joints, punk art, and more, the visual aesthetic seeks to accentuate the culinary experience. The menu items feature organic and housemade ingredients in every bite. Top sellers include their Buffalo Pizza with buffalo cream sauce, broccolini, shiitake bacon, hot agave drizzle, and fresh parsley, the Pesto Pie with a pesto base, roasted red pepper, mushroom, almond ricotta, fresh parsley, and black sesame seed crust, to name a few!
And if it couldn’t get any better, they won the seal of approval from every vegan’s favorite activist celebrity, Joaquin Phoenix! Pizza Pundit Alex and Design Dilettante Alexis join VEGWORLD to chat about their creative venture to provide a holistic sensory dining experience at the hottest pizzeria in town!
VW: Why was the visual aesthetic so important to you while developing the concept for Hot Tongue Pizza?
Alex Koons: Inviting people into a personal space, where they feed their bodies with food made from one’s own hands and heart is a sacred thing. It’s an honor I take very seriously. That coupled with my love for dining out inspired my aspirations for Hot Tongue Pizza. I love to experience the space–the dining room, the cutlery, the art on the walls, and the design of the bathrooms–even before I sit to eat! Personally, it was important to create a space that had all that. I wanted to have a space that reflected how I think, and feel. A space that was simple, clean, and full of magic. Our designer Alexis, and the design firm Preen got me right away. I admired how they thought way outside the box and always loved their prior work from the get-go! I knew they were gonna create the space I’d only dreamed of.
VW: Your inspirations are drawn from your creative passions–from music to visual arts! How do you feel they fit in with your love for pizzas and plant-based eats to offer a complete sensory dining experience at Hot Tongue Pizza?
AK: Presentation is a top priority for me. From the plates I use for a salad to the placement of the napkin holders, I will obsess over it all. I feel that every pizza I make is a work of art. The space I serve them in should match all of that. It’s all part of the overall experience. The space itself to me is one giant work of art. Being a part of it, and seeing the work that goes into everything is incredible. My digital vision boards turn into drawings, then plans, and then built into reality. The whole process is pure magic of creativity and hard work. The space is alive, just like the food and the people there eating and enjoying themselves.
VW: What is the story behind the name “Hot Tongue”?
AK: Hot Tongue was the last musical project I was ever a part of. Music was a huge deal to me. After this project was over I knew that I was gonna be trading in my lyrics for recipes, and I was very okay with that. Plus, it’s not like my restaurant ventures mean having to let go of my memories and skills while in a band! It’s like I always say, “Running a restaurant is a lot like being in a band. Now my team is the band, service is the shows, customers are the fans, and my food is the music.”
VW: How do you envision Hot Tongue Pizza as playing an important role in changing perceptions and biases when it comes to plant-based foods?
AK: Veganism comes with a lot of weight. It’s more than just a diet for a lot of people and I believe that offering delicious choices of plant-based food is a form of activism. I am not here to preach, my beliefs are in my food. It’s my job to make outstanding food–so good that it doesn’t matter what it is! I don’t make vegan food, I make food that happens to be vegan. It’s what I love, it’s what I eat, and yes, it’s cruelty-free! Veganism is no longer a “weird” concept and nor is it something to be wary of. It’s the future, and I plan on blazing that road at 88 miles an hour!
VW: Just a glance at the menu is enticing our taste buds! Any plans to offer frozen pizzas for nationwide shipping, or launch a line in grocery stores?
AK: Wholesale is a market we would love to tap into with the right partner. Offering all our dressings, sauces, and pizzas is most definitely on the checklist of things to do!
VW: That gives us in the rest of America something delightful to look forward to! Moving on to the design concept, what do you think it was about Alexis Readinger’s art that drew you to their work to design your space?
AK: I would describe it as an instant knowing that Alexis was our person. There was a positive, creative energy, and I loved the proposal that was sent to us. It felt like less of a contract and more of a road map and the beginning of a journey. I had also listened to a podcast Alexis had been on. All the stars were perfectly aligned to bring Alexis’s talent on board!
VW: Do you think there is something special about pizzas that inspires creative eateries with a unique experience?
AK: Hot Tongue itself is an experience, before you even enter the building the sign and pink outline of the shop welcome you with warm neon light. You get hit in the face with the wafting smell of pizza coming out of the oven, and you’re hit with a warm welcome from our team. The whole experience should feel like a budding friendship. Spaces like this are portals into people’s consciousness and souls. I always say if you don’t like the shop you probably wouldn’t like me. This is my authentic self represented within 4 walls.
VW: Out of curiosity, did the artistic vision inspire the menu items or vice versa? How did that come about?
Alexis Readinger: Stepping into an immersive space is a powerful part of the human experience. For Hot Tongue, we had the opportunity to bring the brand through the design, to communicate the assemblage of values that Hot Tongue represents. The immersion is a visual map that tells their guests what’s about to go down. It’s an invitation to the vibe, to the journey. For Hot Tongue, I foresee Alex’s vision of creating an irreverent reverence for the art of being an exceptional human. It’s an invitation to uplevel.
VW: What a simple, yet profound concept that we tend to take for granted in our everyday lives! One of your descriptors of Hot Tongue Pizza was that it’s a “design slice of heavenly married mismatch.” How do you believe that translates into the customer’s experience?
AR: For the space to be truly immersive and unique in its own right, it needs to originate from the things that don’t exist anywhere else. In each project, we are listening for the generator. In this case, it was Alex. Alex created his genius logo–it’s pink, it’s pop, it’s punk, and very “California.” And then he showed us pictures of old school New York pizzerias and melting Salvador Dali clocks. Add in some vintage, some grit and some of the surreal. Jazz it up with some Hunter S. Thompson, playfulness, and make it mind-bending. There is a language in all of it that got tied together to create something unique for Hot Tongue. That language moves the world of what it is to be doing something vegan past that boundary and into a future in which we are all eating more plant-based without even stopping to consider it. It’s a change the world needs and we dig Alex for it.
VW: We are loving the passion and vision of this spectacular feat! Before we wrap up, we want to do good by the Joaquin Phoenix fans out there. Can you tell us what it was like to earn his patronage?
AR: We were doing a Pop Quiz for pizza to get some of our food out the door while we were in construction. His assistant reached out over Instagram and asked if he could give the pizzas a try. We made nearly 7 pies for his family and they really enjoyed them! He was our first paying customer and from what our Manager Michael who delivered it said, a very nice dude.
ABOUT ALEX KOONS
Alex Koons is a husband, father, a teacher, and a student of life. Alex has been in the pizza industry for 14 years. He took a job delivering pizza to support his passion for music and spent 7 years pursuing that dream before swapping out the microphone for an apron. He started as a delivery driver and worked his way up at Purgatory Pizza to become an owner in 2016.
There, he rebuilt the branding, and culture and expanded the vegan menu exponentially. This helped catapult his dream of Hot Tongue into a reality. In 2022 Alex opened up the first Hot Tongue, an ALL vegan pizza shop. Outside of his restaurants, Alex Koons is also a pizza consultant. Koons strongly focuses on pushing the importance of putting people first, and helping chefs and owners get on board for the future by helping expand on their vegan offerings. Koons believes a vegan pizza is a slice of activism no matter how you cut it.
ABOUT ALEXIS READINGER
Alexis Readinger founded the international award-winning architecture and design firm Preen in 2005. She has been at the heart of the hospitality world in Los Angeles for over twenty years. Bridging chefs, nature, retreat and sacred space, her work invites both the exploration and the evolution of consciousness.
An active thought leader, her work is published in Architectural Digest, NY Times, LA Times and Interior Design. She has been invited to keynote speak and regularly contributes as both speaker and judge for various professional organizations and awards in culinary, construction, architecture and design.
A Texas native, Alexis holds a Masters in Architecture from UCLA and a Bachelors from Vanderbilt University. She is a LEED certified Green Building Advisor and a member of the AIA. Alexis serves on the board of the Chinatown Business Improvement District (BID), the Chung King Road Association, and the Travel Experience and Trends Council at the Urban Land Institute (ULI). She stands for just and joyful business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shriya is an Animal Rights activist, VEGWORLD writer, and Founder of Nourish by Shriya– her Vegan Hospitality Consulting Service that helps businesses attract the growing plant-based community. She is a mentor with Animal Activism Mentorship, enjoys volunteering at The Gentle Barn in Missouri, and currently lives in St. Louis with her pooch, Halley.
The post Entice All Your Senses at Los Angeles’ Hot Tongue Pizza appeared first on VEGWORLD Magazine.cream plant-based industry