In a conversation with Kobi Regev, co-founder of plant-based pizza cheese company Pleese Foods, Inc., the PBFA team got to take an in-depth look at the moving story of the brand’s founding – a story infused with love, nostalgia, and New York City pride. Pleese® was co-founded in a humble NYC kitchen by husband and wife team Kobi and Abev, who, at the time, had no sights set on launching a business. Now, after taking a leap of faith into the industry and growing their cohort by two young children, the pair is more motivated than ever to normalize plant-based alternatives of their city’s iconic staple.
From parents of young children to small business owners, from lifelong New Yorkers to pizza lovers worldwide, the story of Pleese® is deeply personal, and that’s the secret ingredient that keeps the slices coming.
“At Pleese Foods, our mission is simple but close to our hearts – we believe no one, especially not a kid at a party, should ever have to settle for a ‘strange’ pizza. As a born-and-raised New York pizza enthusiast and with Abev’s background as a teacher, we understand the significance of good food and memorable moments.”
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the history of Pleese Foods and the inspiration behind its founding?
A: Pleese Foods Inc. is the result of two New Yorkers refusing to sacrifice their love for pizza when they decided to go vegan. What began as a quirky hobby to create authentic plant-based pizza evolved into a full-blown passion for crafting delicious, allergen-free cheeses on a large scale. Originally, we envisioned a small local vegan pizzeria or producing small batches for our community. However, the overwhelming positive response to Pleese® propelled us to share it with restaurants nationwide.
It’s surreal to think that our journey from a tiny kitchen in New York led us to production in Wisconsin, with Pleese® now gracing pizzerias, delis, and schools across the country. The name Pleese® is more than just a playful nod to ‘Plant Cheese’; it’s an invitation, a desire to hear the joyous ‘pleese’ from kids ordering pizza. It’s these moments that remind us why we embarked on this journey, and it’s the joy we bring to pizza-loving hearts that fuels our passion every day.
What do people need to know about Pleese’s mission? Can you speak to your company’s core values?
At Pleese Foods, our mission is simple but close to our hearts – we believe no one, especially not a kid at a party, should ever have to settle for a ‘strange’ pizza. As a born-and-raised New York pizza enthusiast and with Abev’s background as a teacher, we understand the significance of good food and memorable moments.
As parents ourselves, our commitment is unshakable – we prioritize the use of the highest quality ingredients, and we ensure our products meet rigorous quality controls. It’s not just about creating plant-based alternatives; it’s about crafting an experience that rivals the best in taste and quality.
Our core values are rooted in authenticity and a passion for making a positive impact. We strive to empower consumers to reduce their reliance on animal agriculture by offering a delicious addition to their favorite comfort foods. Pleese® isn’t just about what’s on the plate – it’s about contributing to a more sustainable and enjoyable food future for everyone.
One of the goals of this series is to help shine a light on the stories and individuals behind the companies. What is your big “why” for working in the plant-based foods industry? Is there a particular cause or fact that you learned that motivated your work and passion?
The ‘why’ behind my work in the plant-based foods industry is rooted in a simple belief that when you have an idea that has the potential to make a meaningful difference for people and the environment, you can’t help but be driven to bring it to life. I’m the kind of person who delves deep into a subject, wanting to understand every facet of it.
My journey into the world of plant-based foods wasn’t a deliberate career path. It stemmed from a personal decision to change my diet for health reasons. Little did I know that this choice would propel me into a realm of possibility. What began as a hobby soon transformed into the ownership of a national plant-based cheese company.
Pleese Foods is a testament to the hard work and dedication that Abev and I have poured into our shared vision since that initial spark of an idea in our kitchen. What fuels my determination is the impact we’re having on people’s lives, particularly those kids with allergies who would otherwise feel left out at a pizza party. It’s the tangible difference we’re making, one slice at a time, that keeps me inspired and motivated on this incredible journey.
From your perspective, why do you believe it is important to normalize plant-based alternatives of iconic fast food staples?
Growing up on a North American diet dominated by pizza, burgers, and potatoes, my culinary world revolved around the convenience of restaurants and food delivery. As a single guy navigating the hustle of NYC, my kitchen gathered dust. Changing my diet not only meant a shift in what I ate but also in where I could find my meals. While it nudged me toward cooking more, it did take away the convenience I had grown up with. Dining out with friends and family became a bit of a challenge.
For someone like me, the expanded availability of plant-based options means I can now enjoy meals at a variety of restaurants with a diverse circle of friends. It’s not just a personal convenience; as a parent raising two plant-based kids, it brings peace of mind. We used to worry about them feeling left out at birthday parties, but with the growing accessibility of plant-based choices, they have several delicious options, and they never miss out on the celebration.
As a plant-based founder hailing from New York City – a town that holds a deep pride for its ability to craft a delicious, on-the-go slice of pizza – does the culture of ‘sharing a slice’ hold a deeper meaning to you?
Absolutely! Being a New Yorker, the culture of ‘sharing a slice’ is more than just a tradition—it’s a deep-seated pride, a marker of the city’s heartbeat. I used to be that guy you could call in the middle of the night to find the best slice joint relative to where you were in Manhattan. Pizza is not just a meal; it is a quintessential part of the New York experience.
When I transitioned to a plant-based diet, letting go of meat, milk, and eggs was one thing, but parting ways with pizza was non-negotiable. It’s a sentiment many New Yorkers can relate to—the city just doesn’t feel the same without it. I vividly remember the moment we introduced Pleese® to my favorite slice shop. As we sampled it on their pizza, it was a realization of everything I had dreamed of when I made my first homemade batch. I might have shed a tear or two.
Today, seeing several pizzerias and bodegas across the city offering vegan options and witnessing the overwhelmingly positive responses from customers fills us with immense pride. We’re not just providing an alternative; we’re contributing to the evolving tapestry of New York’s pizza culture, and that, to us, is truly fulfilling.
Having co-founded this company with your spouse, you must have experienced all of the highs, lows, and in-betweens of launching a company together. Can you speak to what it was like taking a bold risk and jumping into a new career with your partner? Tell us more about what it was like to build a company from the ground up where you both were able to show up as your true, authentic selves each day.
If there’s one thing that defines Abev and me, it’s our commitment to authenticity. Launching a business is no small feat, and when you throw in a marriage and kids, the stress can seem never-ending. Yet, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Drawing inspiration from my parents, who have successfully run a business together for over 40 years, starting Pleese Foods with Abev is a dream realized.
Being authentic in our business journey means being true to ourselves every day. It’s not just about building a company; it’s about weaving our genuine selves into the fabric of Pleese Foods. Abev, my partner in business and in life, is my voice of reason and the person I’m most grateful for. The inception of this company was her brilliant idea, and everything I do is fueled by the love and commitment I have for her and our two amazing kids. Sure, running the business was simpler before the arrival of our children, but now they are our biggest fans. Their presence adds layers of meaning and purpose to what we do. The journey of building Pleese Foods from the ground up is not just a professional endeavor; it’s a deeply personal one, that brings us pride every single day.
What has been the most rewarding moment or pivotal milestone you’ve witnessed during your time at Pleese Foods? As a plant-based company, are there any big moments of celebration you’d like to share, or any obstacles you’ve successfully overcome?
1 – The inaugural Plant Based World Expo in 2019 was a huge turning point. Faced with the challenge of scaling up from a shared kitchen, serendipity struck when we met Big Idea Ventures. Their invitation to join their first cohort became the catalyst for our evolution.
2 – A pivotal moment unfolded during our first plant trial with our co-manufacturer. Despite significant investments in food scientists and R&D, the first batch didn’t quite come together as expected. However, in that challenging moment, I was the one that found the solution. On the way home, reflecting on the day and journey I had taken to reach that point and knowing that I had become an expert in my field. It was a profound realization of personal and professional growth.
3 – The day we launched our first pop-up pizza event in 2020 holds a special place in my heart. Amidst the comotion, my two-year-old daughter, in her unscripted innocence, confidently walked up to the counter and uttered, ‘Can I have pizza pleeeeese!’ Her spontaneous request echoed not just the joy of a child but the culmination of our collective efforts, making the Pleese® experience so authentic and delightful. It was a moment that encapsulated the heart and soul of Pleese Foods.
Let’s face it, revolutionizing an industry comes with just as many pitfalls as they do milestones, but the most important thing you can do as a founder is focus on the small victories. Those are the moments that make the journey worth it in the long run.
In your ideal future, how do you hope to see the success of Pleese Cheese applied in the next decade? Where would you like to take your company next?
I’m incredibly excited about the future of Pleese Foods, envisioning it on the shelves of supermarkets and reaching a wider audience. The amazing flavor profiles we’ve meticulously crafted over the years deserve to be savored by consumers everywhere. While our journey started on the vibrant streets of New York, it’s amazing to see Pleese® capturing the hearts and minds of people globally.
In the next decade, my hope is to witness foreign language campaigns introducing Pleese® to even more corners of the world. I want Pleese Foods to transcend borders, becoming a positive influence on people’s lives worldwide. The dream isn’t just to sell a product; it’s about creating a global community that shares in the joy and deliciousness that Pleese® brings to the table. The journey has been incredible so far, and the future holds the promise of even greater adventures for Pleese Foods.
Can you give us a sneak peek into any notable news or exciting product launches in the pipeline for 2023/2024?
All I’m going to say is, Frozen Gluten Free Pizza With Pleese®
Where can we learn more about Pleese Foods?
That’s easy, our website is www.saypleese.com or follow @pleesecheese on your favorite social network. Please feel free to connect with me on Linkedin too!