Bryn Mawr Vgë Café Gets Kosher Certification

By Hannah Lee

Photo by Judith Lynn Huczko.

I first wrote about the vegan Vgë Café in Bryn Mawr when it just opened last spring. On a visit some time later, the Brazilian proprietor, Fernando Peralta, expressed to me his interest in obtaining kosher certification because his customers were asking for it. I advised him to speak with the owners of other vegetarian establishments. Lo and behold, I was delighted to hear right before Pesach that he is indeed now certified kosher.

The kosher supervisors are Rabbis Eli Hirsch and Zev Schwarcz from the International Kosher Council, the same agency that certifies other local establishments such as Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant, Blackbird Pizzeria, and Sweet Freedom Bakery. The IKC is based in New York (it supervises the popular Blossom restaurants) and they’ve recently expanded to Mexico, Portugal, and Ukraine. It was Rachel Klein of Miss Rachel’s Pantry who led Peralta to IKC.

“We are a vegan restaurant and already had proper procedures in place for cleaning vegetables, so the process was quite simple,” said Peralta. He only had to change the balsamic vinegar that he was using. The inspection covered all the ingredients and products used in his establishment. His café will be inspected on a biweekly basis, with no advance notice. Being non-Jewish, Peralta was not asked to close on Shabbat.

Vgë Café, located at 845B West Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 AM to 8:30 PM and Sundays, from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Catering is available. Phone: (610) 527-3091.

Food Chat: Vgë Café

By Hannah Lee

Vegetarians, vegans, and diners on a budget can cheer for the opening of Vgë (pronounced vee-gee) Café in Bryn Mawr in late April.  People like me who like stories of second-chances can hope for the best for owner Fernando Peralta, a Brazilian who’d spent 17 years in finance when he decided to switch directions.  He went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh and, although he has been a vegetarian for seven years, he studied, prepared, and tasted the meat according to the curriculum.  Later, he did an externship in Akron, OH, at a Mediterranean-Italian vegetarian restaurant owned by Chrissie Hynde from the band The Pretenders.

Why did he choose this location?  Peralta said the college-aged population and health-conscious residents in the area seemed like a great fit for his concept.  He said he’d traveled through most of the Northeast to do research and find a suitable spot for his restaurant.  “This area seemed like a phenomenal location,” Peralta said. “In the beginning, I was envisioning more sophisticated fine dining, but in this economy people can’t afford it.”

Peralta said that he and his friends have been frustrated by the shortage of affordable, fresh, and healthy choices for a casual meal.  Being vegetarians didn’t make it any easier.  “While some chains are making a true effort to bring healthier choices to their menus, the vast majority of quick-service options are based on empty carbohydrates (refined grains), bad fats, canned vegetables, and frozen or fried, highly processed foods,” said Peralta.  “Not to mention the excess sodium and high-fructose corn syrup, found in virtually every processed food in this industry.”

So, the new café offers whole grains instead of refined ones; baked foods instead of deep fried; natural sweeteners like applesauce or agave instead of refined sugars; dark leafy greens (richer in anti-oxidants than pale lettuces such as iceberg), and no canned vegetables.  The menu is animal-free and dairy-free, so the food has zero cholesterol.  They also eschew the use of saturated and hydrogenated fats.  Every item on the menu has less than 500 calories.

Peralta is developing a relationship with the local farmers to reduce his carbon footprint.  Items which are not available locally year-round, sometimes he buys frozen.  He said, “there are many studies indicating that quick-freezing vegetables will retain more nutrients and vitamins than transporting them at room temperature, when vitamins are more susceptible to oxidizing.”  Peralta cooks the food on location, from scratch, from fresh ingredients, so he can control what goes into every item he sells.

Peralta has chosen for his café energy-efficient lighting and appliances, recyclable and compostable cups, packaging, bags and utensils. He is in the process getting the “green” certification from the Green Restaurant Association.

Vgë Café, located at 845 Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open Mondays- Thursdays from 11:30 am to 8:30 pm and Fridays-Saturdays from 11:30 am to 9:30 pm.  Catering available.