Vegan cheese experiment leads to Fan restaurant’s frozen pizza spinoff

The Hop and Udderless’ pizza maker Andrew McQuillen and owner Evan Byrne. (Mike Platania photo)

A few years ago, as Evan Byrne was watching the vegan pizza at his restaurant The Hop Craft Pizza & Beer gain in popularity, a hiccup arose: the vegan cheese he used in his pies became difficult to find.

He had sourced much of the cheese from local startup UnMoo Foods, but then UnMoo quietly shuttered in 2021. That’s when Byrne took the vegan bull by the horns and got busy developing a recipe for a vegan cheese of his own.

Now, after two years of trial and error, Byrne is spinning up that recipe into a new offshoot. Earlier this year he launched Udderless Pizza, a frozen vegan pizza venture made with his newly developed, cashew-based cheese.

The operation is based out of The Hop, which Byrne has operated at 1600 W. Cary St. since 2018.  The pizzas are sold at The Hop at other markets around town such as Ellwood Thompson’s, Good Foods Grocery in Bon Air, The Stables Market in Libbie Mill and Lombardy Market in the Fan.

Byrne said the deals to get Udderless on those shelves came together more quickly than he anticipated. 

“I just emailed (Ellwood’s) online straight through their vendor portal. I don’t know anybody there. I thought I’d wait a week and then go by there and see. But the purchasing director emailed me back the next day, over-the-moon excited,” Byrne said. 

“I think vegan pizza is just something they’re in need of. There’s not a good one out there.”

Udderless’ vegan Greek pizza. (Courtesy Udderless social media)

Udderless’ initial offerings are a Greek pizza, a vegan pepperoni pizza and a plain cheese pizza with red sauce, each with a suggested retail price of between $11 and $12. Byrne said Udderless’ pizza is made in-house at The Hop where it’s par-baked, frozen, vacuum-sealed and shipped. 

Byrne said it’s been hectic trying to fulfill orders for hundreds of Udderless pizzas while also running The Hop’s normal business. 

“It’s a process. It’s like a labor of love,” Byrne said. “I’m making pizza all day.”

He said he’s not yet necessarily planning to sell blocks of Udderless’ cheese, which he said imitates mozzarella, as a consumer packaged good or ingredient for other restaurants.

“Our core competency is pizza,” he said. “I’d like to grow it into a big thing, but I’d say right now we’re focused on being the best possible vendor we could be.”

He said he is thinking about creating other variations, such as a Sicilian or pineapple frozen pizza, as well as other vegan cheeses that those with nut allergies could eat. 

“We’re thinking about doing some alternative cheeses too, because the process is basically the same. For people with nut allergies, we’re thinking about doing something with soy,” Byrne said. 

The local frozen pizza industry has long been led by Billy Fallen’s Billy Pie, and restaurateurs all over the country have started to get into the industry in recent years. Byrne pointed to a recent New York Times story on the phenomenon as signs that Udderless may be hitting the market at the right time. 

“I thought that I would’ve had to have some sort of relationship or connection just to get in these (markets), but I think we’re getting in at the right time,” he said.

“We started doing this about two months ago and it’s picked up steam. Maybe we can ride this wave.”

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Steven Gooch
Steven Gooch
27 days ago

Congrats Evan. This has been a very successful addition to the pizza offerings at The Stables Market.

Karen Berndt
Karen Berndt
27 days ago

I had a sample of Udderless pizza at Elwood’s the other day and, wow!, it’s the very best vegan pizza I’ve eaten. We have 2 pies in the freezer and our family is having them for an easy weekday dinner tonight.

Connie Cooper
Connie Cooper
27 days ago

Congratulations, Evan!! So happy for you!!

Dave Towberman
Dave Towberman
22 days ago

Excellent idea! I can’t wait to try Udderless frozen pizza!

Laura Abney
Laura Abney
16 days ago

I’m so excited to read about Udderless Pizza! I’m a vegan moving to RVA in a couple of months from Wisconsin and of course, nothing like that around here in DairyLand. Can’t wait to try it!