In the early spring, a neighborhood café, Café Renata caught fire and was forced to relocate from the corner of 43rd and Locust. The space remained vacant for some months, but Vincent DePaul (Vinny Vegan aka Gangster Vegan, or Vinny Blanco to his childhood friends) of Gangster Vegan Organics has plans on changing that.
“I didn’t choose the location, it chose me. God sent me over there,” he said.
He named the business Gangster Vegan Organics because those were all terms that defined him. “Growing up, I was obsessed with that lifestyle. I wanted to redefine gangster, helping people reverse diseases like diabetes. That’s gangster. For me, gangster used to be going out to the club every night, spending money. But that’s not gangster.”
Currently DePaul has one Gangster Vegan Organics location in Norristown, which offers gluten-free, vegan and organic grab ‘n go food options. After considering plans to expand and scouting some potential locations for another store in Phoenixville and West Chester, he decided to go back to a familiar block in West Philadelphia. “I burst into tears when I first came around the building, you know exactly when it’s meant to be… I lived in West Philly when I was 19; I worked at Koch’s Deli for a year.”
He recounted his life events that led up to opening his first location in Norristown, right before he moved back from Los Angeles after becoming 12 years removed from his hometown. When the economy hit, his nine year old t-shirt business went bankrupt and he became homeless. He recalled a moment when he was hungry and had “hit rock bottom” and was given a cup of fresh pressed organic juice, which inspired him to go vegan and lead a healthier lifestyle.
According to DePaul, the new Gangster Vegan Organics will be opening in March. DePaul is interested in hiring a full staff (10-25 employees) for the location, preferably local to the neighborhood and with an interest or knowledge about the organic vegan lifestyle. The West Philly location will be a full-service restaurant with cooked and raw organic gluten-free offerings, seating up to 100 people.
– Rana Fayez
Check out this video of Vinny making watermelon juice: