A Brief History of Philly’s Vegan Takeover
From Horizons to HipCityVeg, a timeline of how our veggie scene got so good.
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.
Rich Landau is born.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Gianna’s Grille, where the “strictest vegans” will “be able to dine with carnivorous friends and family,” opens just off South Street.
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.
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.
The vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, refined-sugar-free Sweet Freedom Bakery opens in Grad Hospital and later expands to the suburbs.
Steven Laurence launches wholesale supplier and market Vegan Commissary.
Grindcore House, a vegan coffee shop, opens in South Philly.
Mark Mebus, a Horizons alum, starts slinging vegan pizzas and sandwiches in his new shop, Blackbird Pizzeria, in the former Gianna’s Grille location.
PETA names Lincoln Financial Field the most vegetarian-friendly stadium in the NFL.
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.”
Vegan caterer Rachel Klein launches Miss Rachel’s Pantry, an all-vegan cafe in South Philly.
The first Philly VegFest, featuring all-vegan food, cooking demos and live music, takes over Headhouse Square.
Mayor Michael Nutter names November 1st “Philly Vegan Day.”
Dottie’s Donuts opens in West Philly.
Steve Cook and Michael Solomonov surprise everyone by opening Goldie, an all-vegan falafel shop, in Rittenhouse.
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.
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.
The first Philly Vegan Restaurant Week kicks off.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins tells ESPN he went vegan after watching the What the Health documentary.
Citizens Bank Park adds Questlove’s meatless cheesesteak to the menu.
Philadelphia Brewing Company hosts its first Vegan Beer Festival.
Published as “What Cheesesteak?” in the December 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.