At a time when feeling isolated is almost unavoidable, Jaimie and Sal Costa set out to cultivate that sense of community the only way they know how — with food.
“Food is all about love,” said Sal. “Your heart has to be in it.”
“We wanted to do something that represents us,” added Jaimie. “Growing up, it was about food. It was about family, it was about community… And it was about eating.”
The Collingwood couple founded Paisano Vegano last summer, and for the past six months they have been sharing their passion for plant-based, organic and authentic Italian food with Collingwood and the surrounding area.
“It was always something we wanted to do, it was just a matter of when and how. It was never the right time,” said Jaimie.
Sal is a platinum-selling, #1 Billboard USA and Juno Nominated recording artist, and prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, he planned to spend the majority of 2020 touring the United States and Europe. When the pandemic was declared, the tour was cancelled, and Jaimie and Sal found themselves stuck at home, contemplating what to do next.
Determined to make the most of the unexpected situation, they shifted gears and decided to focus on their other passion: food.
“Instead of saying this sucks, we said here is our chance,” said Sal.
Sal grew up in Toronto as part of a large Italian family, and every aspect of family life typically revolved around food.
“The kitchen was the heart of the home, all we did was cook,” Sal laughed. Now with a wife and two kids of his own, the tradition continues.
When he wasn’t on tour, Sal would spend most of his time in the kitchen. He completed a plant-based chef course a few years ago, and loves experimenting with his favourite family recipes and finding ways to make them plant-based.
As restrictions eased last spring, Sal and Jaimie started making homemade Napoli-style pizza to share with the neighbours, and Sal quickly fell back in love with the craft. The couple found a wood-burning pizza oven for sale on Facebook Marketplace, so they drove to Lake of Bays one Saturday, picked it up. With an oven up to the task, they decided to share their pizza with the rest of the community.
They posted an announcement on social media with a goal of selling 20 pizzas, and sold out instantly. The next week, they set out to sell 50, and again, they sold out by the following Friday. So the business was born, and they have sold out every week since.
They named their business Paisano Vegano, after the Italian word "paisan" which means friend or fellow countryman.
"It’s creating that community, it’s your paisan," said Jaimie. "We wanted to make Paisano Vegano a community of people."
To retain creative freedom, Sal and Jaimie decided they would switch up the pizza up every week. On Sundays, Jaimie will post the weekly special on social media and accept orders until they run out.
“We wanted to make it something cool and unique, so we thought, what if every week we just think of something different and that’s our special for the week. So it becomes something that you are looking forward to,” Jaimie said.
The couple tries to source all of their ingredients locally, using only plant-based and organic products. The pizza itself is built on homemade sourdough that they ferment in the days leading up to Friday service. They get their inspiration for the pizzas from places Sal has been on tour or they have travelled to as a family.
“Everything in our life is food-oriented. When we travel, it’s about food,” said Jaimie. “Finding that hole in the wall where recipes are passed down for generations.”
Some of their past pizzas include the Mount Vesuvius, the “Racchetta,” and the “Ringraziamento,” among many others.
Throughout the summer and into the fall, Paisano Vegano operated out of a portable pizza oven in front of the Wild Stand on Hurontario Street. As the weather got colder, the duo started brainstorming what the plan was for the winter, and learned that Al Carbon — which used to be Santini’s several years ago — had an old Italian pizza oven that was no longer in use.
So they subleased the space, and continued their business indoors.
In their new, larger location, they are now offering two pizzas every week: their weekly special, and a classic marinara pizza they are calling “The OG.” They also started partnering with other local plant-based bakeries to offer a sweet option as well, such as vegan cinnamon buns.
Sal’s favourite part about it is the creative freedom it allows.
“What I love about it is that you create something that is uniquely yours, and you can make it look beautiful like a painting, but then in 20 minutes it’s gone and gone forever, it’s in your belly,” laughed Sal. “It’s like this piece of art that has to be constantly recreated, so it’s never the same."
For Jaimie, it’s about connecting with the community as well.
“We are meeting so many awesome people,” she said. “Because of the type of food we offer, we are attracting our kind of people. And because it’s such an intimate interaction, we really get to build that connection.”
And as it turns out, the two make a really good team in business as well.
“Our whole existence is essentially me dreaming up crazy stuff and her figuring out a way to facilitate it,” laughed Sal. Jaimie is in charge of the operational side, from answering emails and scheduling pick-ups to posting on social media, while Sal thrives in the kitchen.
Jaimie said one time she tried to cook pizza and it turned out "burnt and terrible." But she adds that Sal isn’t a planner, and said that if he had to run the business side, everyone would show up at the same time and no one would pay.
“It’s a perfect partnership. We stick to our strengths and we balance each other out,” laughed Jaimie.
The couple has also enlisted their two children as honorary pizza tasters.
Moving forward, they both have ideas and directions they would like to take the business. For now, they are humbled, and simply enjoy sharing their passion for plant-based pizza with the community.
“Collingwood is an incredible community. Out of all the places I’ve lived and I’ve been to… It’s a unique place and I love the people here,” Sal said.