Since the onset of the pandemic, local vegan-friendly establishments throughout the Lehigh Valley have noticed an increased demand for plant-based options on their menus.
Restaurants and cafes such as The Vegan Butcher and The Hummus House, both based in Allentown, and Lit Coffee Roastery and Bakeshop on the South Side offer long lists of vegan options to the Lehigh Valley.
The Vegan Butcher
The interior design of The Vegan Butcher references going back in time through retro toy displays, cassettes and chalkboard drawings, almost purposefully symbolizing the preparation of traditional, authentic food while appealing to people of all diets.
Dave Abboud, owner of The Vegan Butcher, said his experience as a practicing physician inspired the idea for the eatery.
Abboud said his work with weight loss has shown him the importance of promoting a healthy diet to reverse cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes.
Abboud’s vision for the business was to make sure people can find nourishing, plant-based food for an affordable price in an area often recognized as a food desert.
He cited a study conducted in Philadelphia and Washington D.C., measuring two different populations 30 miles apart, which revealed that zip codes can predict potential diseases that one could develop, including high cholesterol and diabetes.
Abboud described the business as a “portal” to a new eating lifestyle that does not intimidate customers from trying vegan dishes, although he recommends veganism for long-term, good health.
“We’re really taking things back to how things used to be, where we didn’t have a microwave, more traditional,” Abboud said. “This is an introduction from one way of living to another.”
He said most establishments are beginning to incorporate one or two vegan options to their broader menus, while The Vegan Butcher does the opposite.
According to Abboud, the restaurant is up to 90 percent vegan, but does not appear to be so at first glance. It aims to be approachable to those who may be off put by the idea of veganism.
Kate Egging, the restaurant’s general manager, said they enjoy helping newcomers navigate the menu and developing personal relationships with regular customers.
“People come in and say, ‘I’m not a vegan, where do I start?’ and that’s fun for us,” Egging said.
Lit Coffee Roastery and Bakeshop
In Bethlehem, Lit Coffee Roastery and Bakeshop offers vegan cookies, pastelitos, scones and croissants in an effort to provide for their plant-based customers.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Lit has been offering curbside pick-up and in-store purchases with safety protocols, as well as wholesale coffee sales.
Matt Hengeveld, co-owner of Lit Coffee Roastery and Bakeshop, said he is grateful that the business is not in “dire straits” after the pandemic began, and said roasting coffee for other local businesses has played a crucial part in helping them stay afloat.
“We definitely have gotten lucky,” Hengeveld said. “Our customer base is just so loyal and wants to see us thrive.”
Hengeveld feels the Lehigh Valley has always been on the forefront of the veganism movement.
“There’s been several vegan bakeries in the area for longer than we’ve been in business, and they’ve kind of set the culture as far as something that people not just want as a side option, but want that option from the center,” Hengeveld said.
Hengeveld finds face-to-face interaction to be the strongest form of community outreach and said social media can only make an impact to an extent.
“Really the most powerful thing you can do is just make [people]feel comfortable while they’re in here,” Hengeveld said. “Really show them the measures you’re taking to keep them safe. I think people appreciate that.”
The Hummus House
The Hummus House opened seven years ago when Anthony Hechme’s family moved to the Lehigh Valley.
“We moved to the area and were looking to open up something,” Hechme said. “My mom’s a cook, so we just went with opening up a restaurant, and we slowly transitioned to being a vegan restaurant.”
Hechme said this choice to attract vegan customers was made because they believed Pennsylvania needed more plant-based kitchens. He felt the perfect place to offer vegan meals was in the heart of Allentown, where a community of plant-based eaters seems to be growing.
Although the majority of their food is vegan, one page of the menu is not in order to provide for all customers who may come in the door.
Hechme said the drastic decline in traffic has impacted their business “horribly,” since they lack the space to safely house indoor dining.
The family is working to recover from their losses, so they have had to put community outreach on hold for the meantime.
“We’re kind of just working to survive at the moment,” Hechme said.
Prior to the pandemic, Hechme said his family’s business did have more opportunities and time to engage with the community through fundraisers and events.
“We had coupons going out, we had cooperation with colleges, schools, hospitals, and stuff like that,” Hechme said. “Once everything’s over, we’re going to bounce back to that.”
The Vegan Butcher can be visited at 768 Union Blvd. in Allentown, Lit Coffee and Roastery at 26 E 3rd St. in Bethlehem and The Hummus House at 1502 W Chew St. in Allentown.