PICTURE a billboard on I-76 with the slogan, "Philly's more fun when you eat vegan!" Or perhaps, "Philly's veg scene will ring your bell!"
That day could be closer than you'd think, as Visit Philadelphia, among other forward-looking big-city tourism agencies, recognizes vegan dining as a draw.
Visit Philadelphia CEO and president Meryl Levitz said that while there's no "Love, Philly" campaign targeting vegans, there may be soon. "It's not a fad," she told me in reference to the vegan trend. "We thought at first it might be, but it's a real thing."
It's worth paying attention to, as "food drives tourism appeal," she noted. And if you're pitching a town to vegans, Philly is stepping up as a top candidate.
Just last month, Visit Philadelphia issued "Veg Out," a guide to vegan-friendly food spots in town. And the current issue of Amtrak's Arrive: The Magazine for Northeast Business Travelers sports a cover story on "Going Veg," spotlighting Vedge's Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, two people as responsible as anyone for boosting Philly's national vegan-dining profile.
Charlie Was a Sinner, the new vegan bar in Center City, will be featured in the new issue of Where Philadelphia, the venerable city-by-city travelers' magazine. Associate Editor Jessica Lopez explained that vegan food is "appealing to a lot of people, not just vegans, because there's an overall interest in cleaner eating."
Blackbird Pizzeria, which has been winning awards right and left for its all-vegan selections, now represents Philly in The HappyCow Cookbook (BenBella Books), named for the vegan travel website, with a fun recipe for nacho pizza (see it at philly.com/veganblog).
Glen Merzer, who authored the book with Happy Cow founder Eric Brent, told me that Blackbird was included among 50 venues internationally "first and foremost because it was highly rated by HappyCow users." Another factor also played in: "It's a vegan pizza place - there are no other pizza restaurants in the book." (Doesn't that make Blackbird, like, the top vegan pizza joint in the world?)
Reality TV check
So shouldn't there be a travel show focusing on vegan food and Philly? There's about to be.
"VegOut" has filmed a pilot and promo video and is crowdfunding a first season of six shows focusing on six cities (more at vegouttv.com), starting with Philly.
"Everybody likes to say, 'Our city is the best for vegan food,' " said "VegOut" host Patti Gandolfo, who created the show with South Jersey's Adam Peditto. While allowing that she thinks that "Philly really has the [vegan-friendly] gastropub scene down pat" in a way few other cities do, she's ready to investigate and compare.
Gandolfo said that a goal is to "uncover how diverse vegan cuisine can be" by "highlighting vegan options everywhere, even if the venues are not exclusively vegan."
She wants people to know about "gems they might walk right past," such as Mi Lah Vegetarian and Royal Tavern, "or the Khyber Pass, with their vegan catfish."
Gandolfo and Peditto were separately germinating this show idea up to early April of this year, when a lunch conversation at Bryn Mawr's Vge revealed their mutual interest and sparked a collaboration.
Encouraged by feedback at Philly Vegfest earlier this month, the duo is pushing forward with big plans and promising footage already in the can.
The cross-pollination will help raise awareness of veganism here and elsewhere.
While Levitz says that Visit Philadelphia has "no specific ad yet for the veg-loving visitor," niche marketing to vegans is underway via uwishunu.com and other outlets.
"It's funny to call it niche because it's so mainstream now," said Levitz, remarking that no matter what the diet, "people from everywhere expect to have the best food they'll ever eat in Philly."
Thanks to vegan travelers' guides like these, they will!