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Vegan eatery with wholesale biz is a whole other animal

Booming brunch fare and other efforts are causing Vegan Commissary to outgrow its South Philly space.

Steve Laurence, of South Philly's Vegan Commissary, is eyeing bigger spaces. (MICHAEL HINKELMAN / DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Steve Laurence, of South Philly's Vegan Commissary, is eyeing bigger spaces. (MICHAEL HINKELMAN / DAILY NEWS STAFF)Read more

STEVE LAURENCE, 63, of Bella Vista, is founding partner and chief operating officer of Vegan Commissary, on 11th Street near Morris in South Philadelphia. The biz includes a restaurant that uses only plant-based ingredients, sells wholesale to other restaurants, and caters and hosts special events. The eatery opened in December 2013.

Q: Where'd the idea for Vegan Commissary come from?

A: I managed MilkBoy [at 11th and Chestnut] and left to do consulting. Some friends who rented space in Comcast Center asked me to make prepared foods. It grew out of that.

Q: Startup money?

A: We opened this place for $35,000 cash and [sweat equity]. It was all from money contributed by the five original partners.

Q: The biz model?

A: When we opened the restaurant, we already had a wholesale business. Chefs like immediate feedback from serving hot food prepared fresh. The brunch business took off. At first, we stopped doing dinner and tried lunch and then we stopped doing lunch and the wholesale business fluctuated. We do some events and have struck a balance.

Q: Insofar as retail goes, it's just brunch for now?

A: That's our regular retail experience, but we also do weddings, baby showers and cater off-premise events, in addition to in-house special events.

Q: Wholesale clients?

A: Eat-A-Pita, all the Good Karma Cafes, Chhaya Cafe, Black & Brew, the Last Drop Coffee House and P'unk Burger.

Q: What part of the biz brings the most revenue?

A: Brunch generates about 50 to 60 percent, wholesale ranges from 30 to 40 percent and special events fill in the rest.

Q: Who are your brunch and special-events customers?

A: We have a broad customer range. Most live in South Philly, millennials and couples. Most customers didn't grow up with a plant-based diet.

Q: You do a living wage?

A: Nobody makes less than $10.75 an hour. People with more responsibility are salaried and make equivalent of $15 to $16 an hour. We pay for health-care coverage through the Restaurant Referral Program and we don't dock workers' pay if they're sick.

Q: Your competitors and what else differentiates you?

A: We compete with every restaurant, not just vegans. I think we're a little less expensive, our food is good and we're rated one of Philly's top brunch spots.

Q: How big a biz is this?

A: We have nine staff, seven full-time. We did about $350,000 in revenue last year.

Q: What's next?

A: We're looking for space to expand our wholesale business. We need more refrigeration space. We'd like to be into bigger space by end of summer.