For Sunday night’s “Uptown Soul Food Vegetarian Restaurant Pop-Up” event at Wired Beans Café, patrons were welcomed with the aroma of sweet potato fries and other meals such as a “Bacon Cheeseburger” and a “New Orleans Po’boy Sandwich.”
But those names were deceptive, for the burger was soy and the Po’Boy was Po’battered zucchini and squash.
Uptown Soul Food owner Takia McClendon said the event, which the Chelten Plaza establishment hosted, was designed to introduce the Germantown community to healthier, more plant-based versions of soul food.
“I hope they have a better understanding of what vegan food is” said McClendon. “I want them to be able to leave and say I might like my chicken, but I know there is an alternative that tastes good.”
She thought the event would run similar to a fast food restaurant, with people jetting in and out of the Chelten Avenue cafe, but was happily surprised by the outcome when she arrived at 6:15 p.m. to see there was already a packed house.
“I was like, ‘This is not how McDonalds works,'” she said. “People are supposed to be coming in and going out.”
More than 50 family, friends and community members were entertained by local musicians and spoken-word artists as they waited patiently for their food. Local vendors selling hand-made jewelry and head bands were also on site.
Paula Paul and Leonard Belasco were there not only support Wired Beans, but to try the new business venture.
“We need a food renaissance in Germantown and a vegetarian and vegan restaurant would be part of it,” said Paul, who is a vegetarian.
Belasco, a Germantown native, was nostalgic. He said remembers when the neighborhood was full of good restaurants and rued the fact that there aren’t many left.
“For Italian, we have to go to East Falls,” said Belasco. “We don’t even have a good soul food restaurant in Germantown. We have to go to Roxborough.”
Kim Doughty, a former vegetarian who came from Overbrook with her sister and a friend for the eats, said she thinks an alternative neighborhood restaurant would benefit the community as a whole.
“That will be really good as far as healthwise because with the African-American population there is that issue of heart issues and diabetes,” Doughty said. “If you can get ‘regular’ food that is actually vegetarian or vegan, and it still tastes like the regular down-home soul food, then I think people will gravitate towards it.”
The combos cost $5, with net proceeds going to Philabundance, the region’s largest hunger-relief organization.
Wired Beans Café owner Robert Wheeler said he immediately jumped at the opportunity to see McClendon’s vision come to fruition.
“People gave me a chance to show my creativity and I think that is what we should do,” he said. “We should give back to the people that are trying to come back behind us. That’s very important.”
By night’s end, Wheeler invited McClendon to return once a month.