By Alix Gerz, East Falls Resident
For Notoya Knight, food is all about the vibe. Maybe your vibe is spicy, maybe it’s sweet, maybe you want it to taste like a dish you once loved, or maybe you want to be taken by surprise. Whatever it is, you can be sure she’s serving it up at East Falls’s Vegan Vibes, where she aims to please vegans and non-vegans alike.
Here, Knight offers creative, plant-based options: cold-pressed juices, tropical smoothies, sandwiches, pastas, salads … and of course a little something sweet to finish with. Knight’s aim is to have a wide range of offerings that appeals to every vibe–vegan and not-so-vegan. That means while there’s plenty of veggie-forward options, there are also items that evoke their non-plant-based counterparts: a seitan Philly “cheesesteak” or the 100% lobster-free “Lobstah” salad rolls, for example.
Even the simplest dish is packed full of big flavor. “Being Jamaican and from the West Indies,” says Knight, who has called Philly home since 1992, “I always have to put a little of the island twist on it.” In fact, two of her most popular dishes are Caribbean inspired–Rasta Pasta (penne, peppers, and carrots, simmered in an island-style creamy, Cheezy sauce, coconut jerk sauce) and the Krabby Patty (lump crab-less patty, lettuce, tomato, Sriracha aioli on a toasted brioche bun).
Knight began her own journey to veganism as a teenager, when she often felt ill after eating meat. One day her father, a vegan, fixed her a plant-based meal. “‘He gave me cooked lettuce and mushrooms,” she says with a laugh, noting just how far vegan food has come in recent years. “I felt energetic and full of life the next morning. And here I’m a teenager and thought I was already full of life!” Ultimately, she launched Vegan Vibes to show others that they can take ownership over their health–and reimagine their diet. When her customers think of veganism, she wants them to picture tasty, fun, delicious foods and not just a plate full of steamed kale.
Knight ate a pescatarian diet until about six years ago, when she decided to go all in on the vegan way of life. In order to hold herself accountable, she started an Instagram and blog–Toya’s Vegan Lifestyle–chronicling her journey with a new recipe every day of the year. Fellow vegans, the vegan-curious, and restaurants started following her, asking not only for her recipes, but also if she could cook for them.
Around this time, Knight began thinking through what it would take to open her own vegan restaurant. Although she was already working as a nurse, she took on evening volunteer shifts in a variety of settings; an ice-cream shop, a friend’s restaurant, a vegan cafe. She learned how to handle unhappy customers, how to shop for products, and how to create and execute menu options.
From there, she was well on her way. Until she ran out of gas, that is. Returning from touring properties to potentially house her soon-to-be vegan juice bar, she started puttering along and pulled into the Sunoco gas station at Ridge and Midvale. She noticed the people out and about, the runners jogging down Kelly, and a sign in a vacant storefront. Inspiration struck, yet when she called to inquire about the property, she was told it was already rented. “But, a vegan restaurant?” asked the voice on the other line. “There’s an open space that used to house just that a few blocks up the hill.” Her tank now full of gas, Knight hurried to the spot, and ultimately opened up her full-service restaurant at 3426 Conrad in February 2022.
What does the next year hold for Vegan Vibes? Knight gestures to the empty menu board behind the counter. “I’m not done creating,” she says with a smile, and starts ticking off more tasty possibilities, including a build-your-own rice bar. Most importantly, Knight wants to hear from the community, so that she can continue to shape her creations to customer preference. East Falls Development Corporation recently hosted a survey that gathered customer opinions on the fare, and Knight regularly gathers feedback from her customers on site.
“East Falls is not afraid of flavor,” she says. “The community has been very welcoming; they thank me for being here. I know I have customers rooting for me.” So come on in, she gestures, “What’s your vibe?”
Everyday East Falls is a series of monthly profiles of the people behind some of our neighborhood businesses. We hope these stories give you a deeper understanding and appreciation for the businesses that call our neighborhood home.
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