Former police officer hopes his new Manayunk restaurant can ‘bring the love’ back to Philly

 Arthur Johnson sitting in The Art of V on Main Street in Manayunk. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

Arthur Johnson sitting in The Art of V on Main Street in Manayunk. (Neema Roshania/WHYY)

After 15 years witnessing shootings and other street violence as a Philadelphia cop, Arthur Johnson just wants to bring some good into the world. Along with his partner, Behnaz Shiraz, he is opening The Art of V, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant on Main Street in Manayunk that will double as an event space.

Johnson hopes to host art shows to display local talent, karaoke nights, date nights for couples, interactive dinner theaters, free classes for children and families on healthy eating and any other gap he thinks he can fill in the community.

With city schools cutting arts programming due to a lack of funding, Johnson said he hopes that the restaurant can be a place for families and kids to come for lessons that aren’t being taught in schools anymore.

“I worry they will lack vision, an imagination, because they aren’t being exposed to art. These are the classes that help build our kids’ imaginations,” Johnson said. “I am sick of people getting killed. If we can show one child how to care, teach him something wonderful, he we will take that and spread it.”

Tough upbringing

Owning such a space has been a lifelong dream for Johnson, who was born and raised in Philadelphia.

After suffering from sexual abuse when he was 7 years old and being placed in a Germantown orphanage for several years as a child, he joined the military for eight years and was stationed throughout the world.

He returned to his hometown to become a police officer and after undergoing surgery for an injury he received in a shootout, he said he started to view life differently.

After being shrouded in negativity, he wanted to “bring love back into the city of brotherly love,” once he left the police force a year ago.

“It seems to me that all the love is leaving Philly. I want to show people that you can do wonderful things no matter how much you have,” Johnson said. “This city will improve. I want to show kids that some man who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth has achieved his dream.”

The concept

The restaurant, dubbed The Art of V (for vegetables), will serve fresh juices, smoothies and a menu specializing in plant-based dishes.

The Art of V is taking the place of the former Ali Baba Palace on Main Street near Pensdale, which was owned by Shiraz, who also owns the Philadelphia-area Ali Baba Limousine company.

When the Persian restaurant wasn’t performing well, Johnson and Shiraz, longtime friends, teamed up with their chef, Muss Clark, to revamp the concept for the restaurant.

“There is an art to everything,” said Johnson. “An art to being kind, an art to loving someone and an art to preparing food.”

He added that while he is not vegetarian or vegan, he believes that there isn’t enough of an emphasis on vegetables in many people’s diets today, especially children.

“At least we used to have Popeye to tell kids to eat their spinach,” he said. “Now, nobody is telling kids to eat spinach,” adding that there is very little positive influence in pop culture today. He explained that in his years as a cop, he would constantly see unhealthy eating affecting children.

“Somebody has to stand up and offer people these types of options,” he said.

The Art of V’s grand opening will be on Saturday, August 31 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The event will feature chef-prepared tastings and live performances.

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