V Marks the Shop, an all-plant-based convenience store, officially opens this month, adding yet another option to Philly’s flourishing vegan scene. Inside the South Philadelphia neighborhood spot, a paradise of snacks awaits, with shelves full of churro-flavored cotton candy, s’mores brownie bars, chipotle jerky, and more.
“It’s a haven of obscure drunk food that you can’t really get anywhere else,” says Chelsea Lewis, who traveled from West Philly to fill her backpack with boxes of knockoff dairy-free Cheez-Its and frozen Blackbird Pizzeria pizza. “And, as a vegan, it’s so nice to walk in here and not need to scour the labels of anything.”
It’s the project of husband-and-wife duo Carlo Giardina, 51, and Carmella Lanni, 42, two former Bronx food bloggers who ran a site called the Food Duo. In 2010, both went vegan, shifting their blog to match their lifestyle and investing more time in the endeavor. Not long after, they started to brainstorm how they could take their entrepreneurial food interests offline and began selling vegan products at various pop-ups in New York.
“We always had the goal of doing a brick-and-mortar, and we knew Philly was where we wanted to go,” Lanni says. “We loved the city — we’d come down almost every weekend just to get away from New York, and we quickly saw how active and diverse the vegan community was here.”
In 2016, Giardina and Lanni launched the Philly Vegan Pop Flea, a vendor market still held monthly at places like the Rotunda, Tattooed Mom, and, recently, V Marks the Shop (1515 McKean St.).
Though the couple has amassed a following over the years, they know they’ll never be able to compete with large supermarket chains.
“We’re more of a boutique. We spend a ton of time researching smaller and up-and-coming businesses whose products you won’t yet see on mainstream shelves,” Giardina says. “But we’re also a community space — people can come here to hang out, learn about veganism, meet other vegans, and participate in events.”
In addition to snacks, there’s a deli case of dairy-free cheese options, tempeh bacon, and Just Egg, a substitute for whipping up scrambled eggs. A butcher case holds items such as Korean-style ribs and porterhouse steaks made from seitan, and several standing freezers contain everything from cheesesteak empanadas to tofu-ricotta-stuffed ravioli to “crab cakes” to almond-milk gelato sandwiched between cookies.
About 15 percent of the products are sourced from local purveyors, but the goal is to get that closer to 50 percent. V Marks the Shop is now the only place to find frozen pies from Blackbird Pizzeria, stocked alongside items from Crust Bakery, Batter & Crumb, Eat Nice, Freakin’ Vegan, Baba’s Brew Kombucha, and other regional vendors. Visitors will also find a rotating list of items like matzo ball soup, “white fish” salad, and carrot “lox” from Miss Rachel’s Pantry, a well-established vegan hot spot just blocks away.
In the back of the shop, a seating area offers free WiFi and a selection of random arts and crafts supplies. Every Saturday, the shop hosts events ranging from product tastings to board game tournaments to talks by guest speakers. While finishing up a soft-opening phase, hours are posted weekly to Instagram.