Vegans Are People, Too

By Elliott Sharp
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Nov. 9, 2010

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Photo by Gina Scanlon

Napalm Death blasts from the Grindcore House speakers as co-owners Mike Barone and David Anthem drink coffee underneath portraits of anarchists Peter Kropotkin and Voltairine de Cleyre.

Grindcore House opened in August in a space that used to be a butcher shop in the early 1900s, and is one of two vegan- and locally owned establishments that opened here in 2010. Grindcore, along with Blackbird Pizzeria, have given the cheesesteak capital a hardcore seitan push.

In late 2009, Barone was working as a freelance web engineer and software designer; Anthem was completing his masters in Library & Information Science at Drexel and dreading the dismal job market. Both had been heavily involved in radical politics and animal-rights activism for years, and began seriously considering opening their own coffee shop: a task infinitely more challenging given their ethical commitments.

“We debated if we could financially maintain an all-vegan place or if we should compromise our beliefs and go into work everyday to look at fucking milk in the fridge,” Anthem says. “We finally decided that an all-vegan establishment was the only option regardless of whether it did well or not. We said that if it tanks in six months so be it, but at least we’d have our principles intact.”

Serving up Goshen coffee with soy, coconut and almond milks, sandwiches and bagels with a variety of spreads, and cakes, cookies and brownies made by independent, local vegan bakers, Grindcore House sits a few blocks from the owners’ homes in the Pennsport neighborhood of South Philly. But with its lending library stocked with radical literature, and with frequent film, art, music and book events, Grindcore was never meant to be just a vegan coffee shop.

“The last thing we wanted was to open another fucking bourgie coffee shop,” Barone says. “This will evolve into a more legitimate community space where unpredictable things happen and new ideas form.”

Overhearing Barone’s vision, customer Jennifer Giordano confirms that a small battle had already been won. “I come here almost every morning,” she says, “but as far as being vegan, I just can’t go there yet, but this is a step, this is definitely a step.”

About 10 blocks north, lunch customers at Blackbird Pizzeria are greeted by Earth Crisis booming through the soundsystem.

“We don’t always have vegan straight-edge hardcore on, but we do today,” chef Mark Mebus says from behind the counter as he serves up slices of seitan pepperoni and the already famous potato pie.  

Mebus and co-owner Ryan Moylan had entertained the idea of opening a vegan pizzeria since 2005, and when they got a call in May from long-time friend Anthem about the former Gianna’s Grille space being on the market, they jumped at the opportunity. They opened five months later.

Moylan was working as a freelance flash developer; Mebus was in his third year as line cook for Philadelphia’s vegan mecca, Horizons. A graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute, Mebus began experimenting with vegan pizzas after his shifts at Blossom, a reputable New York City vegan spot. Despite his background, he and Moylan prioritized creating a vegan restaurant with proletarian appeal.

“Many vegan restaurants today are upscale places that don’t do much for the common person,” Mebus says. “To bring veganism to the masses, it’s important to have pedestrian-friendly establishments so it’s more easily brought into people’s lives.”

Their most popular item is the seitan cheesesteak sandwich: a potentially blasphemous concept for many Philadelphians. But Mebus and Moylan are confident that their product will win people over even if their ethics don’t.

“Philly’s identity is tough and meaty, but there’s a growing community that’s more conscious and interested in veganism,” Moylan says optimistically. “We’re inherently challenging our customers to think,” Mebus continues, “but whether they take on our ideals or not is up to them. We won’t shove our political viewpoints down anyone’s throats. We’re first and foremost about serving quality food.”

While food comes first at Blackbird, it’s inseparable from their unwavering vegan principles. Along with Grindcore House, they represent an ethics-driven business model that sets them apart from nonvegan-owned vegan restaurants. “A nonvegan running a vegan restaurant makes a purely financial decision, but vegan-run businesses are better because there’s more of a vested interest. And, besides, nonvegan-run restaurants don’t play Earth Crisis,” Mebus says smiling.

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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. Emily K said... on Nov 10, 2010 at 11:12AM

“it's about fucking time, philly! many thanks to grindcore house & blackbird for having the balls to go all-the-way vegan.”

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2. cafe tableaux said... on Nov 10, 2010 at 01:42PM

“Both of these places kick ass. In my opinion, blackbird should expand the menu with more veggie pizzas instead of relying on fake cheese and fake meat.”

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3. Jim said... on Nov 10, 2010 at 08:27PM

“I'm not a vegan, but I get a cup of kick-ass coffee every Friday morning at Grindcore served with a smile by Rachel. This is one of the best things to happen to Pennsport in a while. I love it.”

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4. Carla said... on Nov 11, 2010 at 08:53AM

“Congratulations to the dedicated vegan owners of these wonderful vegan establishments! You're doing great things for Philadelphia. Thankyou. Blackbird - i love your pizza! More, more...”

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5. Kathy L. said... on Nov 12, 2010 at 01:22PM

“The seitan was thinly sliced and the daiya cheese, mushrooms and peppers and toasted bread competed this DELISH meal. This place rocks!”

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6. Josephine Kalata said... on Nov 13, 2010 at 12:13PM

“In a city the size of Phila., you would think that in these times of "concious" eating, maintaining a vegan commitment would be easier than THIS by now. While the food at Blackbird is delicious and vegan, it remains in the "fast food" spectrum as far as "health" food (IF that is a consideration {it's gonna be a high calorie assembly of flour, salt, oil and fake meat]). Since I haven't gotten to Grindcore house yet, I cannot comment. I have, however, been to the Loving Hut, numerous times. This top notch and yet value priced vegan eatery at 7th and South is given short shrift indeed as far as PW is concerned. (?) Like an unwanted step-child, it has been conspicuously omitted from commentary or review, except for the miner mention it received at opening a few months back. My vegan partner and I were thrilled to FINALLY have a 100% vegan destination where we could grab a quick bite for a [more than] reasonable price. The array of choices, inviting scene, and lovely hosts deserve kudos!”

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7. Josephine Kalata said... on Nov 13, 2010 at 12:43PM

“I just need to add that the food at THE LOVING HUT is so delicious that vegans and their non-veg friends, I believe, would be equally satisfied. I understand that there is a 'religious" aspect that some may shun. The sincere commitment to the abatement of environmental destruction being waged upon the resources of our earth to satisfy the carnivore's palate is the manifesto here. I think people are afraid they're gonna get hit over the head by some fanatic trying to convert them to some mind altering cult or something. ABSOLUTELY NOT THE CASE. There is NO proselytizing here.”

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8. Theo said... on Nov 13, 2010 at 12:49PM

“How can you complain that a pizza place doesn't make health food? Also, what on earth is "health" food? Eat a balanced and varied vegan diet, and you'll be fine. Blackbird pizza comes with a variety of fresh veggies. I don't care that it's highly caloric - I'm active, and I don't eat it every day - it's a great treat once in a while, which is the point of pizza. Everything in moderation.

Loving hut is pretty unattractive and all about Jesus. Awkward.”

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9. Josephine Kalata said... on Nov 13, 2010 at 06:13PM

“Theo, For someone whose name means "lover of the lord", it's a shame it's so AWKWARD for you to be in the same room with people who have a spiritual focus that centers their life. Like I said, nobody is selling anything at LOVING HUT besides delicious vegan food. Their focus is diminishing environmental destruction by providing vegan alternatives. If ya don't ask, they won't tell (about their personal beliefs) If it's Jesus that makes ya nervous, he's not even a part of their agenda. People not as young and active , or maybe as healthy, as yourself, Theo, do need to TRY when eating away from home, to find more vege sustenance than those found topping a pizza. Hey, I enjoyed my food at Blackbird for sure. If you're vegan and want to eat in a 100% vegan establishment, you should not miss LOVING HUT. Calling it unattractive convinces me you were never even inside.”

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10. Amy said... on Nov 16, 2010 at 10:48PM

“I can't wait to try this place! I'm so glad that these brave souls stuck to their ideals! We need more people like them in the world!

I also hope that they remain 100% vegan and don't stop using fake cheese since most of it isn't even vegetarian and all of it contributes to the suffering and death of billions of animals.”

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11. Mark said... on Jan 27, 2011 at 01:21PM

“Theo - ain't no Jesus @ the Loving Hut - Ching Hai's thing is, more or less, a mixture of Buddhism and generalized pro Earth "spiritualism". The sound/light meditation which is ostensibly the organizing principle of it all, comes directly from Buddhism.”

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12. Anonymous said... on May 18, 2011 at 02:10AM

“Loving Hut is a chain and although I have tried it to see what it was all about, I'll stick to the "mom & pop" stores.”

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13. pizza loving vegan said... on Sep 17, 2011 at 01:49PM

“Nice to see the Loving Hut spokespeople making their presence known. If you don't think that there is something a bit odd about that place, then there is something wrong with you. I'm sorry, I like the food, but the channel dedicated to their spiritual leader that is on 24/7 is a little strange. Blackbird and Gridcore House are both awesome, and to those people are complaining about the "fake meat" get over yourselves. Seitan is perfectly fine, and as for the pizza like someone else already pointed out, it's not meant to be eaten everyday. Gah, health obsessed vegans are annoying, it's about the animals you jackasses.”


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