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Philly's about to get its crunchiest vegan fast-food spot ever

Wait, Maoz is gone? Yep, and the same, soon, for Vgë Café in Bryn Mawr. But these finales are part of a new and exciting opening: Vgë's Fernando Peralto is moving his vegan fast food concept into 1115 Walnut St. as the flagship for a just-announced national brand, PlantPure, launching by the end of 2016.

Wait, Maoz is gone? Yep, and the same, soon, for Vgë Café in Bryn Mawr.

But these finales are part of a new and exciting launch: Vgë's Fernando Peralto is moving his vegan fast food concept into the old Maoz spot at 1115 Walnut Street as the flagship for a just-announced national brand, PlantPure Café, with the opening planned by year's end.
The company partnering with Peralta, PlantPure, is not your average startup: It's helmed by Nelson Campbell, the star of the documentary PlantPure Nation, which chronicled his efforts to obtain state governments' endorsement of the whole-foods plant-based diet.

You might recall my V for Veg column on that concept, featuring Nelson's father, T. Colin Campbell, a top nutrition researcher and decades-long advocate for the health benefits of this way of eating. Dr. Campbell co-authored the best-seller The China Study, the scientific basis for later projects such as The China Study Cookbook, the film Forks Over Knives, and many other books bringing the WFPB way of eating to the masses.
But there's no way to bring it to them like right over the counter, as Peralta well knows after four-and-a-half years in Bryn Mawr. (Vgë closes on October 23.) "We are very excited to launch the PlantPure Cafe in Philly offering a menu that has only whole grains, nothing fried, no animal products, no added oils and limited sugars - mostly from natural sources like dates and raisins," he said in a release.

Even though Vgë is already pretty WFPB-friendly, the PlantPure menu will streamline that concept in an even crunchier, healthier direction. In an email conversation, Peralta said the new joint will feature a salad bar, with the kitchen focusing mainly on hot bowls, for which his team is developing new sauces and new options. There will still be sandwiches and wraps, but pushing it further than low-oil Vgë, "we've eliminated all the oils from all ingredients we can control, so we are dropping the commercial vegan cheese and designing sandwiches that don't need a cheese component."

Wow. So it sounds like the Vgë cheesesteak - the Vgësteak - is out. Pretty hardcore. The Banh Mi should make it through pretty much unscathed. Does a Seitan Reuben "need" cheese? Sure hope not.

"No oil" is, of course, in keeping with the Campbell philosophy, which is also the Esselstyn philosphy, as Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn was the first to show that coronary heart disease could be reversed on this kind of diet. And the proximity to Jefferson Hospital, where people may be examining their dietary habits more rigorously than usual, is certainly a factor in the new restaurant's favor. With health-care giant Kaiser Permanente endorsing plant-based diets as "cost-effective interventions to improve health outcomes" and prominent heart-doctor vegans like Dr. Kim Williams, president of the American College of Cardiology, whole-foods health care is becoming nothing to sneeze at.

Peralta himself first went vegetarian "after my dad's quadruple bypass, and as my own blood screening figures didn't look good." He started learning to make veggie food fun and appealing. He also got into Buddhism and learned about the realities of animal exploitation, which took him further and into veganism.

After reading The China Study, Peralta realized that "I was still eating too much processed and greasy vegan food and I started to gradually move away," but found that "it is very difficult to find foods with no added oils or sugars, so I wanted to provide people with that." At PlantPure, "of all ingredients, only the breads and wraps, which we don't make ourselves, will contain some form of oils."

So can a seriously healthy fast-food franchise work? Whatever the outcome, it's a pioneering step both in diversifying vegan choices and in serving those of all eating persuasions who want healthy food fast.

"I just wanted to offer an option that nobody else was," said Peralta. He certainly did that in Bryn Mawr, and it will be exciting to see how his PlantPure offerings play in Center City.