HOMESTYLE-vegan chef/entrepreneur Rachel Klein, of Miss Rachel's Pantry, just opened her new location on Chadwick Street, a couple of blocks from the Passyunk Avenue spot she'd occupied for the past three years.
"I'm very excited to be embedded in the community," she said. And while she meant her home neighborhood, Klein is also part of a growing Philly vegan community that we'll look at today via three of the women involved.
First, if you missed a chance to experience Klein's scrumptious down-home cooking at the old place, or via her meal-prep and catering programs, now's the time to treat yourself. The cafe is open for drop-in biz during the day Friday through Sunday and for communal farmhouse-table dinners on Saturday nights.
In addition to being slightly closer to Center City, the new location - a former garage now outfitted in the unmistakable "Miss Rachel" style - boasts a kitchen twice as big as the old and seating with more elbow room for that big table.
With her well-established knack for compassionately delicious food, Klein sees the new place serving a variety of food needs and preferences: "You can come in, browse, grab a homemade knish, maybe a vegan cheese wheel and a bunch of locally grown flowers to take to a party. Or just sit down with a cup of coffee and a slice of Boston cream cake," the latter one of the superb sweet treats crafted by Klein's collaborator, Carley Leibowitz.
While her ebullient, easygoing personality probably helps, Klein has benefited in this launch, she said, from vegan channels of mutual aid built over the past half-decade. She cited the "very supportive community," with namechecks for Grindcore House, Su Xing House, Vedge's Rich Landau and Vge's Fernando Peralta.
Most staples, like mayo and cream cheese, are made in-house, but Klein also uses Michael's Savory Seitan and organic tofu from Fresh Tofu Inc., of Allentown. After all, "ain't nobody got time to make tofu," she quipped, quickly adding, "Well, at least here."
Lacking a dedicated gluten-free kitchen, she's serving that demo via Christina Pirello and "her delicious wheat-free treats." Klein's foods are also all certified kosher.
One way Klein is forging paths into the wider Philly community is with cooking classes - she'll teach one on July 18 for the Peace Advocacy Network's Vegan Pledge, a free program in which omnivores agree to try vegan living for a month.
Taking the pledge
As V for Veg readers may recall, the Pledge has been going on in Philly every January since 2010 (Klein also taught at this winter's session), but now PAN's Leila Vaughan is adding a summer session.
(Interested? Go to panveganpledge.org and register by July 8 for sessions beginning July 11.) And the Pledge program has also expanded geographically to Phoenixville, New York, Miami, Chicago and Chapel Hill, N.C.
Vaughan's mission is also about connecting - not just mending the broken connection between personal values and personal actions that is a vegan prerequisite, but connecting people to other people.
"The hardest part of staying vegan is dealing with the nonvegan world," she said, so "having a strong vegan community with positive reinforcement is one of the most important aspects" to taking that step."
To that end, the Vegan Pledge offers participants one-on-one vegan mentors and weekly group sessions where vegan food is sampled, questions are answered and vegans offer their perspectives. (Your V for Veg correspondent will speak at the Aug. 1 session at First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, 21st and Walnut.)
Prospective vegans become acquainted with good, animal-free food, which mainstream prejudice deems inferior. Countering this with tasty offerings from people like Klein, PAN also helps pledges learn good food-prep skills and ways to deal tactfully with the hit parade of nonvegan rhetorical questions.
Vaughan has been making the rounds to gather food donations for the sessions from a network of vegan-friendly retailers and restaurants. In addition to Klein, she noted that "Blackbird [Pizzeria] and Grindcore have been really supportive, and we've also had good experiences working with Whole Foods and ShopRite."
From zero to gyro
One of the latest additions to the Vegan Pledge food lineup is Taft Foodmasters, a NYC-based company now gaining a foothold in the Philadelphia market with award-winning (a 2015 "FABI" from the National Restaurant Association), precooked seitan specialties, such as shawarma and gyro filling.
Here in Philly, gyros have been an underserved niche, one that food inventor and consultant Safiya Carter is determined to fill as a brand ambassador for Taft. In addition to connecting with Fusfeld, her efforts are bringing Taft sandwiches to Weavers Way, Philly food trucks and most of the region's Whole Foods markets.
Carter, who years ago created KOV, one of the first widely available vegan ice-cream brands, says she's "been a connector all my life." Appropriately, she met the company's founder, Jessica Taft, on LinkedIn, bonding over a need for vegan tzatziki sauce.
While Carter works on her own tzatziki recipe, she's encouraged food venues to step up: At Whole Foods in Devon, "the woman who makes their regular [tzatziki] sauce has been challenged to come up with a vegan version," and at the Wynnewood store, a house-made vegan version of the sandwich is available.
Whole Foods Cherry Hill is also now offering the gyro hot off the grill, and Whole Foods South Street next week will launch a Mediterranean Bar in its prepared-foods area, which a manager confirmed will showcase Taft seitan gyros.
Carter, Vaughan and Klein are part of a building phenomenon: Call it what you will - ripples of ripples, interconnected channels or cross-pollination - Philly's vegan innovators are moving beyond individual standouts to a mutually reinforcing collaboration that is working variously to veganize Philly's eating. Slowly, yes, but it's picking up speed.
V for Viva! Another buzzworthy standout is the soon-to-debut taco bar JoseJose, on 18th Street. Watch philly.com/veganblog next week for a peek at the space and a chat with owner Nicole Marquis.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia.
@V4Veg on Twitter.