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Owner Nicole Marquis (left) and chef Lauren Hooks (right) hope to defy expectations about vegan food at HipCityVeg, which is opening a location on campus this fall.

Credit: Courtesy of Miriam Powell

On the same block where her parents met years ago, HipCityVeg owner Nicole Marquis has built a restaurant where she hopes that both vegans and meat-lovers alike will fall in love with her 100 percent plant-based food.

HipCityVeg will open its second location in September at 216 South 40th St., the old location of Won’s Chinese restaurant. Marquis said she chose the site because it’s in the heart of University City and it seats 35 to 40 people, expanding upon the current location in Rittenhouse Square. Construction will begin this week or next, and the restaurant is also currently hiring.

The menu — familiar American fast food with a vegan twist — will resemble that of the Center City location, with some new creations produced in collaboration with chef Rich Landau of Vedge, who won “Chopped” last month. Some popular items include the ziggy burger with smoked tempeh and special sauce, crispy HipCity ranch, the “groothie” and sweet potato fries with cilantro black bean dip.

“It’s a classic American flavor profile that everyone loves, but a better choice — without cholesterol and animal saturated fat.”

Five and a half years ago, Marquis herself became vegan after researching the lifestyle and becoming “obsessed.” She bought her first high-powered blender and made her father a green smoothie.

“He was hooked from day one. Within two months, he lost 35 pounds, got off his blood pressure medication and reversed his type II diabetes,” she said. “Everything I had been studying and reading and researching on my own came to life right before my very eyes, and I knew that this was something that I wanted to do on a large scale.”

Marquis spent four years developing the business plan for the restaurant, using her 15 years of experience in the culinary industry. In April 2012, the first location opened, and now Marquis has decided it’s time for an expansion.

Executive Director of Real Estate Ed Datz said the main reason that HipCityVeg was chosen for the vacant location on 40th Street was because it has “a menu that is complimentary to the food services in that corner.”

“It’s something that the community will enjoy,” he said.

Rising Engineering junior Klyde Breitton, who is vegan, said he’s excited about HipCityVeg, though he recognizes that the store “could be fighting an uphill battle.”

“Personally, I’ll be going there a lot, and I’ll be telling my friends to go there.” he said. “But it’s going to be tough. In the first place, it seems like, from people whom I’ve talked to, that people have something against vegan places almost. They assume it’s going to suck.”

Marquis said she wants the restaurant to challenge the stereotypes of vegan food.

“There’s so many perceptions of veganism that can be negative — that it’s all about eating rabbit food, celery and falafel, and it doesn’t taste good and it’s expensive,” she said. “I really wanted to debunk those myths and make this type of eating more mainstream.”

The building itself will also benefit the environment. The restaurant will compost all of its leftovers, as well as its packaging and utensils. The location will also include chairs made out of plastic bottles, floors from reclaimed wood and iron from scrap yards, among other eco-friendly aspects.

The unique name, HipCityVeg, represents more than just the food, Marquis said.

“I think it really describes what we’re about—this young, professional, urban environment that is hip,” she said. “It’s redefining what’s hip, too.”

“With the health epidemic that we have right now, I wanted to create a culture that says, ‘Hey, we can enjoy the same kind of food that we’re used too—it just happens to be plant-based and we happen to be doing something tremendous for the environment,’” she added. “Enjoying the food and knowing that not only are we doing something good for ourselves, but also for the environment and other living beings—that’s hip to me.”

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