By the end of May, the corner space on 12th and Reed Streets will become The Tasty, South Philly's first vegan diner.
When Atlantic Pizza (1401 S. 12th St) closed last December after 30 years of business, Passyunk Square lost more than just a greasy spoon. It lost its neighborhood hangout, a diner out of the South Philly handbook where everyone knew everyone and breakfast was cheap, fast and, more importantly, good. To say the least, the neighbors were sad to see it go. So when Sofia Baltopoulos, Ben Pierce, and Kate Hiltz decided to take it over and turn it into a vegan diner, they were very aware of the challenges they had in store for them.
Hiltz, working inside, heard from a neighbor reading their "coming soon" note posted outside the papered-up front door. It's safe to say that the transition from a traditional eggs-and-scrapple eatery to a vegan diner with tofu omelettes is a shocking one, especially for the neighbors who had an Atlantic breakfast penciled into their daily routine. But The Tasty is shooting for no more than what the Atlantic was for its regulars: a place to hang out, maybe grab a cup of coffee (this time of the ReAnimator variety), and if you want, a full breakfast, baked goods and all. The only difference, really, is that vegans can eat there, too.
Music brought the trio together. Pierce is a member of the band Restorations, and Hiltz manages bands and owns a record label, Chunksaah. She and Baltopoulos met in the music industry and launched a Philly-based vegan pop-up bakery called This Charming Bakery. A few days after Passyunk Post reported about the diner going up for sale, Pierce, at the time an employee of ReAnimator Coffee, took to Facebook, asking if anyone was interested in snatching it up. Hiltz and Baltopoulos reached out, and a few days later, they were in business together.
They're renovating but not changing much about the restaurant's design. It's the same diner feel, but with a new teal and black color scheme. And they're doing it all themselves — no designers, no contractors — just a triumvirate of music, food, and coffee loving individuals with a DIY mentality, or as Hiltz puts it more simply, "Just a couple of punks." She and Baltopoulos will manage both the front and back of house operations, and Pierce will take care of the coffee program. For the first few weeks, the menu will be limited to just a few items to get a feel for what the people want. Expect a tight menu of simple breakfasts, sandwiches, and baked goods.
For the most part (minus the "yuppies" comment), the neighbors seem to be on-board with The Tasty. Some may be a little more willing than others; at the Atlantic's send-off party, a few regulars promised The Tasty team a go at the new concept, that they'll try it and are hopeful that the spot will resume the role it once played for 30 years.
It helps that the Atlantic's owners, Ioannis and Vasiliki Haralambous, are now landlords and, more importantly, supporters of The Tasty.
"It doesn't hurt that I'm Greek," said Baltopoulos.