7-Eleven's seitan-ic cult

Posted: January 31, 2008

Among the standard items people might impulsively duck into a convenience store for - beef jerky, pork rinds, a quart of milk or a pint of ice cream - you'd scarcely expect to find vegan sandwiches.

And if someone described a 7-Eleven that stocked faux-chicken, seitan steak, falafel and tofu egg-salad sandwiches among many other vegan items, you might logically imagine it in Berkeley, Calif.; or Austin, Texas; or Portland, Ore.

Yet you'll find Moshe's brand sandwiches and healthy snacks at quite a few 7-Elevens right here in Philly, including: 16th Street and JFK Boulevard, 34th Street and Lancaster Avenue, Ridge Avenue and Walnut Lane, and Temple University.

The 7-Eleven on Willow Grove Avenue in Glenside has them, as do many health-oriented outlets.

Moshe Malka started this business a decade ago and more or less fell into his calling.

"I started out in Wyndmoor," he said. "I was picked up by a health-food store distributor, so I started making more veggie stuff. Right down the block from me there was a 7-Eleven. I went in there and said, 'Hey, I'm right next to you, making vegetarian sandwiches. Why not put it on your shelf, and if you don't sell it, I'll take it back.'

"It took a couple of weeks for people to realize that these things were there, but then they started selling. The owner eventually sold that store to a Korean guy, and he was even more interested in carrying the line. Even better, he had a brother who owned five other stores, and the word spread. Now 7-Eleven is looking at introducing the product throughout the corporation."

Janice Tancredi, 7-Eleven's Philadelphia market manager, confirmed this game plan. "In May, we'll be expanding the number of locations where you can get Moshe's sandwiches. [The product line] will eventually be in all of them around here."

Malka, who is not a vegetarian himself, is somewhat amused at becoming a veggie icon.

"I'm a vegetarian manufacturer, but I eat everything," he said with a laugh. "I just didn't want to deal with meat so much for production - you know, with the sanitation and all. I had enough ideas with vegetables."

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