Vegans and vegetarians in the Bryn Mawr area won’t have to trek to Philadelphia for meat-free food once Vge Café opens this spring.
The café, owned and operated by Fernando Peralta, will offer an array of meatless and plant-based options, such as falafel sandwiches with hummus, tomato and spinach, roasted vegetable and portabella mushroom sandwiches, “cheesesteakless,” vegan tuna and mixed green salad and an assortment of soups, salads and other items. The name is pronounced "veegee."
Peralta, 41, has been a vegetarian for seven years and said his goal was to create a “fast, casual counter service-style” venue with fresh food prepared for a vegan, vegetarian and health-conscious crowd.
“At the same time, we’re trying to make some vegan options easier,” Fernando said. “We’re trying to make things people will recognize, like mock tuna salad sandwich.”
Peralta said that everything is baked (not fried), the breads are whole grain and the menu items avoid all kinds of preservatives.
Peralta spent 17 years as an economist before realizing his lifelong desire to be a cook. He quit his job and went back to school at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh in 2009.
A year later, Peralta began working on a business plan and looking for a location for an all-vegan and vegetarian café.
The finance expert-turned-food entrepreneur said industry people providing feedback to his plan were concerned about his establishment's offering only meat-free items. The industry personnel suggested he add chicken or fish to the menu, or an option for people who aren’t vegetarian.
“I told them [customers] can eat chicken cheesesteak if they want to in a somewhat familiar way that happens to be meat-free, and if they want tuna, they can have a mock tuna sandwich,” Peralta said. “I don’t want to compromise the authenticity of what I want this place to be.”
Peralta said his experience as a vegetarian in areas with few meatless options informed his business decision.
“I keep telling people that vegetarians don’t go to Outback or any other steakhouse because they want to,” he said. “They go because of friends, family or a lack of options for their eating needs.”
“If you try to be everything to everybody, what are you?” Peralta added.
The most challenging part of the process was settling on a location for Vge Café.
The new business owner knew he wanted the café to be in the Philadelphia area because he thought restaurants like the recently-closed Horizons Café (the owners opened up another vegan restaurant, Vedge, in November) and Govinda’s Vegetarian on South Street were ahead of the curve for the East Coast.
Peralta wanted to see what areas outside of the city lacked a non-meat presence.
When he explored the Main Line in October 2010, he liked Bryn Mawr because of its proximity to Villanova University, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Saint Joseph’s University.
The café, located at 845 W. Lancaster Ave., does have nearby competitors, such as a Tiffin Indian chain next door, and a Sweet Green salad and wrap café in Ardmore.
However, none have menus specifically catering to meat-alternative options.
Peralta hopes to open Vge Café in late March, as long as the installation of a sprinkler system and electrical renovations finish on time.
“I don’t have any control in those variables at this point,” he said. “But so far the feedback I’m getting from the community and people I get in touch with is very positive. I believe they’re truly excited to have the option, and I can’t wait for it to open.”