Interview: Meet Nicole Marquis, owner of HipCityVeg in Philadelphia! »
Healthful vegan fast food maven Nicole Marquis dreamed of serving fast food to Philadelphians and visitors to the City of Brotherly/Sisterly/Gender-is-a-construct Love. And when she built HipCityVeg, we did come, in arugula taco salad-chomping droves. Now it’s silly to even think of eating anywhere else in Rittenhouse Square! I mean, I guess you could think about it, but it’d be better to save your precious brain space for finding the best spot in Rittenhouse Square to sit with your gourmet vegan take-out deliciousness from HipCityVeg!
Nicole brought me into her adorable restaurant to have me try the groothie, an organic green smoothie made of a rotating blend of fresh local greens and fruit (amazing!) and one of the most popular dishes, the Crispy HipCity Ranch. This overflowing faux chicken burger was battered fried amazingness. I rarely go for that stuff but wow, am I glad I tried it! So ridic!
I love the decor of the place: the whole pieces of organic fruit spilling onto the counter (in an artistic way), hardwood floors, and pretty potted plants. So lovely!
Nicole e-mailed me responses to my questions about how she envisioned and created HipCityVeg, her role in supporting the fast-growing vegan scene in Philly, and her life’s mission to spread the delicious veggie love.
Vegansaurus: Are you native to the Philly area? Where did you grow up?
Nicole Marquis: I’ve lived in the Philly area all my life except for a period living in L.A. during college. I grew up in Lower Gwynedd, but have been living in Rittenhouse Square for a few years.
V: When did you become interested in vegan food?
NM: I first became interested in nutrition by reading Andrew Weil. Then I read Mad Cowboy and realized what animal cultivation was doing to the earth. After reading Eat to Live and The China Study, I realized that a plant-based diet is essential to my health. I became vegan a few years ago after being vegetarian for several years, but the change in conciousness was actually developing for a while before that.
V: How did you get involved with now-closed Philly vegan fine-dining restaurant Horizons?
NM: I worked in the restaurant industry for years, mostly as a server before managing a local night club. While working on another project I met Rich Landau and he recruited me to help run Horizons.
V: What made you decide to open HipCityVeg?
NM: I felt a mission to popularize plant-based food. When something has great importance to you personally you want to see it grow and flourish. I also wanted a world where I didn’t have to peice together a couple of sides every time I ate in a restaurant.
V: What has most surprised you about operating a vegan restaurant in Philly?
NM: I was surprised by the pent-up demand. People said they were waiting for this for a long time. Who knew?
V: How many customers do you get on average per day? More during certain hours of the day?
NM: We serve about as many people as can fit in the restaurant (and onto the sidewalk), really. Our busiest time in this location is around lunch.
V: What is your most popular dish?
NM: Our best-selling sandwich is the Crispy Hip City Ranch, which is delicious. But our overall best-seller is our signature drink, the Groothie. It’s a smoothie made of bananas, apples, organic greens, and a seasonal fruit. There really is nothing better for your body.
V: How do you envision the growing veg scene in Philly? Do you think it’s greater now for any particular reason?
NM: Philly is becoming a great vegan city. It really is a hip city. People here love to challenge their tastes, to embrace the fringe. But they crave real, clean, fresh food. I love my hometown.
V: What are your hobbies, activities besides running the restaurant?
I love yoga. I love the arts. I love eating in great restaurants. I love my family and friends.
V: Anything else you’d like to add?
NM: I want everyone to feel at home in my restaurant. I hope we share the vibe of love. We’re all family!
[Groothie and Crispy HipCity Ranch photos via HipCityVeg]