Those persuasive containers of hummus are showing up in more groceries locally and help explain Philly's new reputation as a vegan-friendly pacesetter. Sure, interest in "vegan" is increasing nationwide, but we have some great homegrown brands, and today we're recognizing three of them.
Bobbi Katz founded Bobbi's Best in 1992 with a signature hummus that brashly drops a key ingredient, sesame-based tahini, to arrive at a clear, powerful taste that makes all other hummus seem vague and slow-witted.
Rob Katz allows that Bobbi's hummus is "radically different from anything in the industry." His mother "took a normally bland product and made it electrifying."
Again: hyperbole? Not really.
Freshness, a built-in plus with buying local, accounts for much of the flavor appeal. Bobbi's isn't "inflated with water," Katz noted, adding that "even the garlic is hand-peeled."
After buying the biz from his mom in 2006, Rob Katz expanded the line to white-bean dip, jalapeño-heated Tex-Mex hummus, pizza hummus and other varieties. "It was the logical next step," he said, to capitalize on the brand recognition "and the growing audience for vegan alternatives."
Watch for Bobbi's Move Over Mayonnaise, a vegan mayo, he said. No mention of whether it will say "Your Favorite Mayonnaise" on the top.
Potato-chip vegans across the Northeast will recall how 7-Eleven made a big splash in 2011 about stocking vegan specialty items at over 100 locations from New York City to Philly after "a test run in select New York stores" in 2010.
Well, don't tell poor old New York, but it was Philadelphia that did the test run, starting when local food mogul Moshe Malka got his light-lunch meals into most of the locations in Philly, as I reported in a 2008 Daily News article.
The enduring appeal of Moshe's diverse line - the Eggless Tofu sandwich, the black-bean burrito, the Asian-style sesame noodles and more - proved the viability of this niche to 7-Eleven.
He's been at it for 15 years, and though his line has at times expanded to several dozen products, Malka said that he's currently more focused on distribution: "My emphasis is not to get more products right now, just more stores."
So far, it's working, as corner stores in Center City are now making room for Moshe's. Ditto with stores throughout South Jersey and parts of upstate New York. As for 7-Eleven, Malka grants that he's "too small to [supply] all their 620 stores" in the Northeast corridor, but around here he's making it easy to stop in and grab a fresh, locally made vegan sandwich.
The wheat-meat whiz
Another behind-the-scenes entrepreneur is Michael Cassidy, who sometimes steps into the spotlight to support his product, Michael's Seitan. (He'll be offering samples at Mariposa Food Co-op, on Baltimore Avenue near 48th Street, on Saturday.)
You may have seen his savory (flavored) variety of "wheat meat" in Whole Foods or health-food stores. You've likely also sampled his wares if you've eaten at one of the increasing number of venues around town that serve seitan dishes.
"POPE [Pub on Passyunk East] is a big seller," he told me last week. Adobe Cafe and Bryn Mawr's VGE also use it. Fishtown is especially hot, with Sketch Burger, Interstate Drafthouse and others along Girard Avenue now serving Michael's. (Find all the venues at michaelsseitan.com.)
Cassidy, who has "been making this stuff for 34 years," started the Michael's brand five years ago and sells throughout the greater Delaware Valley.
"I'm trying to grow into it," he said, vowing to "pace" himself so that he's always able to deliver fresh product to existing customers. But he's also slowly diversifying, working on a barbecue sauce in collaboration with Miss Rachel's Pantry.
What Cassidy, Malka and the Katzes have in common is great-tasting, animal-free food that's made in our area. They're not alone, of course: We'll continue to watch for and share other stories within this expanding market.
Meanwhile, we'll end with our own subliminal message: Buy local. (Oh, and by the way, Go vegan!)
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based
eating in and around Philadelphia. VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.