How Horizons broadened Philly's vegan scene

Ross Olchvary (left), Mark Mebus, Nicole Marquis, and Rachel Klein, all worked at Horizons for Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau (rear) and now own vegetarian restaurants. ABI REIMOLD / Staff Photographer
Ross Olchvary (left), Mark Mebus, Nicole Marquis, and Rachel Klein, all worked at Horizons for Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau (rear) and now own vegetarian restaurants. ABI REIMOLD / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 29, 2012

"I THINK IT'S awesome how Philly's become such a vegan-friendly place," said Kate Jacoby, likely one of the two people in town most responsible for that happening.

With her husband, Rich Landau, Jacoby was co-owner of Horizons, a trailblazing vegan restaurant at 7th and Kater streets that closed a year ago this weekend. From its origins in 1994 as a natural-foods juice stand in Willow Grove, Horizons evolved over the years and in 2006 moved into Philadelphia, forever altering the local conversation about vegan dining.

Horizons' legacy is visible not just in its own sequel (the even higher-profile Vedge at 1221 Locust St.) but in four establishments opened by Horizons alumni. Each member of this vegan diaspora has taken vegan eating in a slightly different direction, but their sturdy shared roots in that seminal establishment show in their commitment to quality and flavor.

Noted alumna Rachel Klein, "Rich and Kate should be proud of the little birds who left the nest."

RACHEL KLEIN

Horizons gig: Assistant/line cook, 2006-07.

Now: This month opened Miss Rachel's Pantry (1732 W. Passyunk Ave., 215-798-0053, missrachelspantry.com), serving homestyle comfort foods, soups, sandwiches and baked goods.

Background: A longtime vegetarian and daughter of philly.com producer and Inquirer columnist Michael Klein, Rachel Klein's catering and lunch-club business evolved around her stint at Horizons and continues still. Her new café serves weekday breakfast and lunch, and reservation-only prix-fixe "farmhouse-table" dinners on Fridays and Saturdays.

What Horizons taught her: Attention to detail, organization.

Quote: " ‘Make sure, even if it takes longer, to do it right,' is something [Rich Landau] would say. ‘It might just be just another dish to you, but it's someone's dinner.' "

Paying it forward: Klein found Horizons invaluable not just as an eatery but as a laboratory. "There aren't many places to work at and learn that kind of thing. You don't want to compromise and cook with meat just to [learn from a good chef]. I appreciate all he taught me."

Horizons gig: Dining-room manager, 2008-09.

Now: Opened HipCityVeg (127 S. 18th St., 215-278-7605, hipcityveg.com) in April, serving fast-food burgers and sandwiches, salads, smoothies, fries.

Background: Marquis studied classical drama in California and lived in Los Angeles, where she discovered "fast-casual" vegan dining. "Like every good actor, I ended up in the restaurant business — and loved it. It really is like a show: Lights, action; back of the house, front of the house." She came back here to work at Horizons.

What Horizons taught her: The importance of quality control, especially relevant in a fast-food setting.

Quote: "Consistency is our top priority. We want the customer to be able to depend on it. That was Rich's thing: You'd see him watching every single plate that went to the table to be sure it was the best it could be for the guest experience."

Paying it forward: Marquis tapped vegan chef Lauren Hooks to run her kitchen and hired the best in the business to create the menu: Rich Landau. "I think America is ready for" a vegan fast-food chain, she said. "A whole range of different people are looking for a fresh take on convenient food. And I'm excited to be part of it."

MARK MEBUS

Horizons gig: Line cook, 2005-08.

Now: Opened Blackbird Pizzeria (507 S. 6th St; 215-625-6660, blackbirdpizzeria.com) with Ryan Moylan in 2010.

Background: Attended culinary school in New York, worked at celebrated Candle 79 and other veggie restaurants, then returned to work at Horizons, "my favorite restaurant," when it moved to Philly.

What Horizons taught him: Quality food is "the bottom line."

Quote: "Rich is the guy who taught me how to make food taste good, and that doesn't matter if you're making breakfast for yourself or a seven-course meal for 100. Working side by side with him is really where I came to make food the way I wanted it to taste, and that is a skill I can only credit to him."

Paying it forward: "I like the idea of quick-service establishments because I feel like I can connect a little more with the customer base. I enjoy making high-end foods [and] I try to bring as much of that to the table here as I can."

ROSS OLCHVARY

Horizons gig: From 2002 to 2009, went from line cook to sous-chef to chef de cuisine.

Now: Opened Sprig & Vine (450 Union Square Drive, New Hope, 215-693-1427, sprigandvine.com) in 2010, serving eclectic, casually elegant cuisine.

Background: Like Mebus, he started out as a Horizons customer.

What Horizons taught him: Everything.

Quote: "From working my way up the ladder there, I learned a lot about how to run a kitchen, about flavor pairings. Especially in the early days at Horizons, the menu focused on ethnic cuisines — Latin and Caribbean dishes, Mediterranean dishes and definitely some Asian influence. With the constant rotating menus, there was a lot to learn about ingredient pairings. Seeing it through the eyes of a trained chef definitely helped me build my base arsenal of flavors."

Paying it forward: "One of my goals in opening this place was a focus on local and seasonal. We work with a handful of farms — Great Road Farm in New Jersey is growing stuff specially for us every week. … When I started at Horizons, no one was even talking about using local ingredients. I think Rich just showed, and I learned, that there's lots of room to be more creative with vegetables — there's so much more you can do with 'em."

Landau and Jacoby continue to adapt and evolve, which Jacoby cites as a key lesson since she herself began working under Landau's tutelage in 2001. A project that likely will leave another high-water mark is the Vedge cookbook, due out next spring.

Offered the "last word," Landau demurred and passed the proverbial mike to Jamie Burwell, who he says "probably knows as much about Horizons and Vedge as all of us put together." Burwell started as a Horizons food runner in 2008 and has worked her way up to sous-chef at Vedge, helping to craft its menu.

"I think it's remarkable," she said, "that in a cheesesteak-and-hoagie city like Philly we can get meat eaters to come in and say things like, ‘This is the best meal I've had in months.' And what I hear from all kinds of people is: ‘I trust Rich to make great food.' "

Burwell definitely knows her way around a vegan kitchen and has a keen eye for food trends: Might she be the next bird to leave the nest? She laughs off the suggestion: "I've had the experience of truly running the restaurant when Rich and Kate were on vacation, and it was like babysitting — it was great fun, but when they returned, I was happy to say, here, take it back."

So for now, anyway, Vedge's creative team remains focused on maximizing the experience right there on Locust Street. But if history is a guide, it's even now generating in young staffers and diners a glimpse of what culinary possibilities might await just over their own horizons.

For more reflections from Kate Jacoby, go to philly.com/horizons.

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 10-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles the growing trend of plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. Send your veg tips to VforVeg@phillynews.comand follow @V4Veg on Twitter.

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