Vegan

A Brief History of Philly’s Vegan Takeover

From Horizons to HipCityVeg, a timeline of how our veggie scene got so good.


vegan history

Before there was Vedge, there was Horizons. Read on to learn your Philly vegan history. Photograph courtesy Richard Landau

Memo to all the haters: Philly’s greenwashing was a long time coming. (No joke: Benjamin Franklin was writing about tofu all the way back in 1770.) Here’s a brief history of how our meat-loving city became an unlikely vegan paradise.

June 1967

Rich Landau is born.

1981

Alfoncie Austin’s Basic 4 Vegetarian Snack Bar opens as the first black-owned business in Reading Terminal Market. She premieres the “Original Vegan Philly Cheesesteak.”

1985

A Hare Krishna monk (whom everyone calls Hari) opens halal, kosher, 99 percent vegan Govinda’s Vegetarian on the corner of Broad and South streets.

1989

Harmony Vegetarian (later New Harmony) opens in Chinatown, serving meat-free versions of General Tso’s chicken, moo shu pork, and other American Chinese classics.

April 1994

Rich Landau opens Horizons in Willow Grove. It’s a novel concept: fine-dining vegetarian. His goal: “To demonstrate the creativity and satisfaction of vegetable cuisine.”

January 1997

Gianna’s Grille, where the “strictest vegans” will “be able to dine with carnivorous friends and family,” opens just off South Street.

May 2001

Vance Lehmkuhl writes an article for the Philadelphia Daily News on how to feed “those people” (vegans) at your next summer cookout. It requires a sidebar defining what a vegan is.

February 2006

Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby relocate Horizons to Bella Vista after realizing that lots of their customers have been driving to Willow Grove from the city.

January 2010

The vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, refined-sugar-free Sweet Freedom Bakery opens in Grad Hospital and later expands to the suburbs.

March 2010

Steven Laurence launches wholesale supplier and market Vegan Commissary.

August 2010

Grindcore House, a vegan coffee shop, opens in South Philly.

September 2010

Mark Mebus, a Horizons alum, starts slinging vegan pizzas and sandwiches in his new shop, Blackbird Pizzeria, in the former Gianna’s Grille location.

November 2010

PETA names Lincoln Financial Field the most vegetarian-friendly stadium in the NFL.

November 2011

Vedge opens. In a review, Philadelphia magazine calls the cuisine “deceptively vegan,” saying this is not only the best vegan restaurant in America, but “one of the best restaurants, period.”

April 2012

Nicole Marquis, another Horizons alum, opens fast-casual, all-vegan HipCityVeg in Rittenhouse. (Locations in Center City, UCity and D.C. and on the Main Line follow.)

June 2012

Vegan caterer Rachel Klein launches Miss Rachel’s Pantry, an all-vegan cafe in South Philly.

June 2014

The first Philly VegFest, featuring all-vegan food, cooking demos and live music, takes over Headhouse Square.

November 2014

Mayor Michael Nutter names November 1st “Philly Vegan Day.”

March 2016

Dottie’s Donuts opens in West Philly.

April 2017

Steve Cook and Michael Solomonov surprise everyone by opening Goldie, an all-vegan falafel shop, in Rittenhouse.

April 2017

Food & Wine publishes a guide to vegan food in Philadelphia, remarking that the city has “emerged as a surprising destination for vegan cuisine.” A year later, it names Vedge one of the 40 most important American restaurants in the past 40 years.

October 2017

Chef Jennifer Zavala debuts her highly controversial vegan “meatballs” at the South Philly Meatball Contest. She doesn’t win — but her audacity does earn her death threats.

September 2018

The first Philly Vegan Restaurant Week kicks off.

December 2018

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins tells ESPN he went vegan after watching the What the Health documentary.

March 2019

Citizens Bank Park adds Questlove’s meatless cheesesteak to the menu.

July 2019

Philadelphia Brewing Company hosts its first Vegan Beer Festival.

August 2019

Craig LaBan writes an ode to Bloomy White, a vegan cheese by new local start-up Conscious Cultures Creamery.

Published as “What Cheesesteak?” in the December 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.