by Alexandra W. Jones
When Facundo Lucci walks into the Reading Terminal Market, he smiles and waves at his fellow vendors. Like a few people there, he runs a deli. But unlike the others, he’s managing an entirely plant-based stall.
He runs Luhv Vegan.
Lucci and his parents, Daniel and Silvia, started the Luhv Vegan brand in 2015. The deli, like their bistro based in Hatboro, is a spin-off of the family’s manufacturing company, which sells black bean burgers in grocery stores across Pennsylvania and five other states. They opened the deli in September 2018.
Now Lucci works every day at the terminal, spending his days slicing vegan meat and cheese offerings and working the register, greeting most customers by name.
Among the stall’s items are corned seitan (a corned-beef substitute) and more traditional veganized sandwich fillers like ham, turkey and capicola substitutes. They also sell a selection of vegan cheeses to pair, including American, provolone and cheddar.
The deli’s most popular item is the Reuben (complete with sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, corned seitan and rye bread), but Lucci’s favorite is the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich.
“The patty isn’t your typical patty,” he says. “It’s made out of steel-cut oats [and] white and brown rice. The egg is made out of garbanzo flour and tofu puree. With a little bit of vegan American cheese? It’s just amazing.”
While the cheeses are currently being sourced from outside venders, Lucci’s father, a professional chef of 35 years, makes the seitan and veggie burgers sold at the stall, as well as all the ready-to-eat foods like tuna salad, pasta salad and soups.
A majority of deli customers, Lucci says, aren’t vegan, but they recognize the health benefits that come with the diet.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, how rich you are, how poor you are, what color your skin is—everybody has one common thing: They want to be healthy,” Lucci says. “More and more, and people are realizing that veganism is the easiest way to do it—especially now that it can taste so good.”
Lucci understands this on a personal level. He says his parents switched to veganism in hopes of becoming healthier. After the financial crash of 2008, they dealt with the stress of filing for bankruptcy in order to keep their restaurant afloat. They both switched to veganism because they were doing so poorly mentally and physically.
The family’s idea to go into the manufacturing business came when customers began asking if they could take home the vegan burger patties Daniel was making at his restaurant.
“After going through days without electricity or heat, when we had the idea to start a new business,” Lucci says, “we decided if we were going into business, it had to be for good.”
Adding a touch of irony, there’s a historic sign above Luhv Vegan’s stall left by Spataro’s Cheesesteaks that reads: “Drink Buttermilk and live FOREVER.” When the market manager originally showed Lucci the space, the sign made him laugh out loud. But it’s also inspired him.
His goal, within the next year, is to create a vegan buttermilk he can sell. That way, the sign will be true—at least for the most part.
“Maybe you’ll live forever,” he says. “No guarantees.”