Though Fernando Peralta's background is as an economist, he’s banking on the success of his first-ever restaurant—the all-vegan restaurant Vge Café in Bryn Mawr.
“I spent 17 years in finance, and it got to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore,” Peralta said.
He went back to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh and has been a vegetarian for seven years.
With a few good vegetarian and vegan options in Philadelphia and outskirts, Peralta said the college-aged population and health-conscious residents in the area seemed like a great fit for his concept and settled on Bryn Mawr. Peralta said he 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.”
He turned his vision toward fast-casual dining, with fresh soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts available by counter service. Everything will be 100 percent vegan and will be fresh, with no preservatives or canned vegetables.
Vge Café will offer such dishes as falafel, seitan, cheesesteaks, barbecue, grilled vegetables, mock tuna salad and two soups every day, so some things will relate to their non-vegetarian equivalents.
Peralta is still in the construction process and is aiming for an opening sometime in March at 845 Lancaster Ave.
“It’s all a factor of how the public reacts,” Peralta said. “I’m trying to appeal to the mainstream. I want this to be a place people come to once a week, or after a Fourth of July barbecue. I want to have food that seems familiar and easy to dig into, rather than scary stuff.”
Following his culinary schooling, he did an externship in Akron, OH, at a Mediterranean-Italian vegetarian restaurant owned by Chrissie Hynde from the band The Pretenders.
“It was an important piece of experience,” Peralta said. “I spoke to many chefs—some have been more encouraging than others, so I have had mixed feedback.
Peralta said the West Coast is much more developed in terms of vegan and vegetarian concepts, and he hasn’t seen anything really similar to this in Pennsylvania. He said when he talks to young folks passing by on Lancaster Avenue, they seem excited about the restaurant.
“It’s new,” Peralta said. “It’s an adventure to see how people will respond.”